Election 2016: Truckee hospital board candidates discuss high costs
TRUCKEE, Calif. — Prospective voters clearly wanted to know one thing at the Sept. 14 Tahoe Forest Hospital District Board of Directors election forum — how each candidate plans to lower health costs.
Tahoe Forest Hospital’s five-member governing board has two open seats, each a four-year term. Alyce Wong, Randy Hill and John Mohun (the lone incumbent) are competing for those seats. Current director Karen Sessler holds the other seat.
“It’s inevitable that the patient protection Affordable Care Act has irrevocably transformed the cost of health care,” Mohun, a board member since 2010, said during last week’s public forum at Truckee Town Hall, where the trio answered questions submitted by the public.. “So, the consumer now is shopping.”
Mohun said that some out-migration, when local patients visit a different facility for care, is necessary since Tahoe Forest Hospital can’t treat all conditions.
But the candidates agreed that the hospital’s increase in services it provides have been in response to local demands and have benefited the community.
“Our health care system has grown,” said Wong. “But it’s grown because our community demands more specialists to fill the needs that they have.”
She said the new cancer center, for example, generates revenue that helps sustain some of the other health service lines.
“We have a small town with the most phenomenal array of services and programs we could hope to ask for, and almost all of those are driven by the community’s desire to have these services,” said Hill, who currently serves as a Tahoe Truckee Unified School District trustee (his term expires this year).
He said that the decisions to increase services don’t come from management or the board, but from community demand. But cost, he said, is another issue.
“Cost is becoming a huge challenge in this country and it is becoming a national crisis,” said Hill.
He said that increasing the services offered at the local hospital has no effect on the cost of those services.
“The cost of health care regulations, reimbursement, technology, pharmaceuticals, labor, affordable care — every one of those things are huge and out of control,” he said. “They’re what are driving the cost to keep a hospital open, and ultimately, we as consumers are going to have to bear the brunt of that.”
Hill said that if the hospital tries to lower prices too much, it risks going out of business.
Mohun also said the cost of health care is ubiquitous, and in the local community there are a lot of people with higher deductible insurance programs.
“This is not unique to this hospital,” he said, “However, it doesn’t mean we can’t sharpen our pencil.”
Mohun said that one option to look at would be to increase the rates. Another, he said, would be to decrease the cost.
“I think in any business, especially the medical business, the systems that can be created to decrease the overwhelming cost in certain areas,” he said. “And if we don’t, we won’t stay competitive.”
Wong said the hospital needed to be careful when considering how to lower prices because, she said, it could start to lose patients if the quality of care declined.