PeaceHealth embraces Medicaid expansion

Despite the health care uncertainties at the federal level, PeaceHealth leaders say they are focused on providing the best care to local patients at the lowest cost — regardless of what happens with the Affordable Care Act.

“We cannot design our organizational strategy around government policy,” said Sean Gregory, chief executive of PeaceHealth’s Columbia Network, which covers Clark and Cowlitz counties.

Gregory and Dr. Robin Virgin, a family medicine physician and part of the PeaceHealth leadership team, talked about the future of health care and struggles of meeting current demands during a meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board on Friday afternoon.

One of the biggest challenges of the Affordable Care Act locally has been the expansion of Medicaid, Gregory said. Clark County’s Medicaid population nearly doubled, but the provider capacity to care for those who became newly insured did not, he said.

The influx of patients led some providers to limit access. PeaceHealth did not, but providing primary care to the growing population has been challenging, Gregory said. PeaceHealth is working with other local medical groups, as well as community organizations, to find solutions to primary care access issues facing Medicaid clients, he said.

“We think Medicaid is going to be here in one shape or another, and we’re advocating for expansion to remain,” Gregory said. “We think it’s the right thing.”

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the strategy at PeaceHealth has been to embrace change, Virgin said. The entire health care system needs a care transformation, she said.

“We’re spending way too much, and we’re not getting the outcomes we need,” Virgin said.

To improve care and outcomes, the local health system has focused on how it can help patients avoid costly care, Gregory said. For example, adding care managers and increasing home visits can reduce more costly visits to hospital emergency departments, he said.

For too long, Gregory said, hospitals have only been focused on what happens within their walls. That needs to change, he said.

“We have to take more ownership of people outside of the hospital,” Gregory said.

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