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EDITORIAL: Nevada moves to stop innovative medical facilities

Updated May 17, 2019 - 9:26 pm

In a cut-throat, protectionist sort of way, it makes sense that Nevada’s existing medical providers want to handicap new competitors. But that doesn’t mean elected officials should be doing their bidding.

Elite Medical Center provides hospital and emergency room services near the Strip. It’s a small facility trying to fill an overlooked niche in the market — tourists. It treats an average of 30 patients a day. It boasts that patients see a doctor within minutes of arrival.

Most Las Vegas residents would likely have never heard of it, except its competitors keep attacking the facility. Other hospitals are upset that Elite Medical Center doesn’t accept Medicaid and Medicare as payment methods.

But why would hospitals care if a competitor didn’t accept certain payment methods? That would seem like an opportunity to lure those customers.

But here’s the dirty little secret about government health care programs: They pay below-cost reimbursement rates. That means doctors and hospitals generally lose money treating Medicare and Medicaid patients. In 2017, the Congressional Budget Office determined that private insurance companies pay doctors, on average, twice as much as does Medicare for procedures. Hospitals and doctors make up the difference by treating patients with private insurance.

Remember that the next time a progressive politician talks about “free” health care or the supposed cost savings of socialized medicine. If you took away the de facto subsidies provided by private insurers, many hospitals would be out of business and many doctors would close their doors.

Hospital officials could put pressure on Congress and the Legislature to increase reimbursement rates. Or they could advocate rolling back Medicaid expansion in Nevada so taxpayers aren’t supporting able-bodied adults. Instead, lawmakers and many state providers are trying to put potential upstarts out of business. Funny, but aren’t policymakers constantly talking about the need to attract more health care professionals to Southern Nevada?

This week, the Clark County Commission approved a rule requiring that new freestanding ERs be certified through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Elite Medical Center would be exempt from that regulation, but it’s not exempt from Assembly Bill 232. That bill would require hospitals to accept Medicare. The bill, an effort by competitors to shut down Elite Medical, passed the Assembly.

“Unfortunately, we have learned the hard way that introducing a newer business model in Nevada’s entrenched health care industry is likely to draw the ire of some hospitals, insurance companies and more,” Elite Medical Center CEO Patty Holden wrote in a letter opposing the bill.

Ms. Holden noted that her facility is already required to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients who face medical emergencies, but it doesn’t seek reimbursement from the state or federal government. She said that “allows us to be nimbler and more targeted with our limited resources.”

The medical field needs innovation. Nevada won’t get it by stifling providers who dare to do things differently.

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