Tahoe Forest Hospital District upping certain health care costs | SierraSun.com

Tahoe Forest Hospital District upping certain health care costs

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com
Tahoe Forest Hospital District interim CEO Jake Dorst.
Margaret Moran / Sierra Sun |

By the numbers

Emergency room visit rates by level:

$318 to $334: Level 1

$540 to $567: Level 2

$825 to $866: Level 3

$1,332 to $1,399: Level 4

$2,156 to $2,264: Level 5

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Inpatient room rates per day:

$6,189 to $6,498: Intensive care unit

$4,830 to $5,072: Step-down care unit

$2,717 to $2,853: Medical surgical unit

$2,717 to $2,853: Obstetrics care unit

$893 to $938: Nursery unit

Source: Tahoe Forest Hospital District

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Despite some in the community claiming its prices are already too expensive, Tahoe Forest Hospital District will soon charge patients more for select items.

Last month the TFHD board of directors approved a 5 percent price increase for 10 hospital charges to take effect Aug. 1.

They include emergency room visit level rates and inpatient room rates such as the intensive care unit, the medical surgical unit and obstetrics unit.

Meanwhile, all other hospital charges will stay the same except for joint replacement procedures, which will drop up to 10 percent due to vendor negotiations.

“Notice none of the lab stuff went up, none of the diagnostic imaging went up,” Jake Dorst, TFHD interim CEO, said in an in-person interview Monday. “Those are high volume; a lot of people use those services. (Meanwhile) we figure to actually get admitted to the hospital is a lot more of a rare event.”

TFHD Chief Financial Officer Crystal Betts added that “minimal impact” should be felt by patients, but the higher prices will help to offset increasing costs associated with care.

Expenses increasing for the district include wages for credentialed employees such as nurses (administrators are not included in this group), service contracts and supply costs, Dorst said.

“We didn’t do a total across the board (price hike), so it’s really a very small amount of what our line items are that we actually charge for,” he said.

Seeking treatment elsewhere?

Yet, the increased prices are still concerning for some community members, such as Jamie Cole, who lives within the hospital district just outside the town of Truckee.

“For me the price hikes show a lack of concern for the year-round residents within the our hospital district,” she said. “It speaks loudly that the hospital board and administration is not interested in affordable care nor in listening and responding to the public’s concern over cost.

“It is the middle-class family that is baring the brunt of out-of-control health costs. … The administration’s actions push patients like myself into the arms of care in Reno.”

Carnelian Bay resident Mark Spohr, who elects to go to Reno for regular screenings and tests, echoed that migration sentiment.

“TFH has very high prices, and they have been increasing them regularly,” he said. “This makes the hospital unaffordable for many local people who go to Reno for less expensive care. Increasing prices will only drive more people out of the area.”

When asked if TFHD is concerned that this price increase will drive people to seek care elsewhere, Dorst said: “That is always a concern. As any kind of business person, you’re always worried about (that). I think our quality and our five-star patient experience shows that you’re going to get a better product here when you come. You’re going to have less infection on the way out. You’re going to have high-quality care.”

Comparing prices

Dorst added that when compared to similar health care organizations nearby, TFHD is on average cheaper even when taking the upcoming price hike into account.

“I think comparatively speaking, when you look at the type of services we offer compared to where you get (them) somewhere else, we’re very reasonably priced, and none of these other competitors in our area are even close to our five-star rating,” he said.

Based on the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development’s 25 common outpatient procedure list, TFHD’s average cost starting Aug. 1 will be $641 — up from $636.

In comparison, the average cost for those procedures in some nearby California hospitals are higher, such as Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital ($1,143), and others are cheaper, such as Plumas District ($468).

Meanwhile, the average cost for those top 25 procedures at Reno hospitals Renown and St. Mary’s Regional is $890 and $857, respectively, according to MedAssets 2013 data.

However, only three of the 10 charges to be increased by TFHD are included in the 25 common outpatient procedure list.

For instance, ER visit level 1 ­— which is not included in the list — is cheaper at Renown ($332) and St. Mary’s Regional ($333).

Meanwhile, that visit level is more expensive at other California hospitals such as Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe ($359) and Dignity Sierra Nevada in Grass Valley ($390), according to OSHPD June 1, 2014, data.

Out-of-pocket expense

As for what this upcoming price increase will mean for patients’ out-of-pocket expense, Betts said that’s difficult to predict.

An individual’s insurance provider, coverage plan, deductible and other factors all play a role, she said.

“Most people with insurance won’t notice the increase because what is disclosed is the list price and their insurance negotiates a lower rate,” said Glenshire resident Ronda Brooks. “The uninsured and those who are out-of-network will pay more.”

It’s those people without coverage or with high-deductible health plans whom Cole is concerned for.

“These families may not have the ability to just run to Reno,” she said. “All of our community deserves to pay reasonable cost for services.”

The last time TFHD increased its prices was Aug. 1, 2014, with a 5 percent hike across the board, Betts said.