'Obamacare' backed by local hospitals

Local hospitals on Thursday roundly endorsed the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Obama's Affordable Care Act. With the cloud of uncertainty all but wiped away, representatives said the focus would turn to preparing for the future.

The court ruled 5 to 4 to uphold Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including the most contentious issue — the requirement that nearly all Americans have insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty.

As Democrats applauded and Republicans bashed the landmark decision, hospitals declared the ruling a victory for patients and expanded access to healthcare.

In a statement issued by Dignity Health — the San Francisco-based parent organization of Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center — Chief Executive Lloyd H. Dean said that while “it is not a perfect bill, the Affordable Care Act does enable us to finally bring the American healthcare system into the 21st century.”

Many hospitals in the region have already been implementing provisions of the healthcare law in preparation for the individual mandate to take effect, which is expected to bring millions of previously uninsured residents into the fold.

As a result of the Supreme Court's decision, more than 80% of the 2.2 million people who are uninsured in Los Angeles County stand to gain access to affordable insurance coverage, according to the county Department of Health Services.

“I know there are many aspects to healthcare reform — both good and some not so good — but overall, in my opinion, the benefits will in the end outweigh the negatives,” said Len LaBella, chief executive of Verdugo Hills Hospital.

If anything, the high court's ruling gives healthcare providers some measure of assurance that nearly all of the federal law will remain in place, despite vows by Republicans in Congress to repeal the act.

“We can now continue our work to expand care to those in need, knowing the policies are in place that will foster higher quality and lower costs for all,” Mark A. Meyers, president of Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center, said in a statement.

But whatever the measure of political certainty afforded by the court's decision, hospital executives warned that the ruling doesn't dull the need to reduce costs of delivering healthcare.

The only setback for the Obama administration was the high court's ruling that the federal government can't penalize states that refuse to go along with a planned expansion of Medicaid, particularly by broadening eligibility standards.

“We recognize that the health reform bill is not perfect, but it should help lower the number of uninsured and increase access to care,” Glendale Adventist Medical Center Chief Executive Kevin A. Roberts said in a statement.

He pointed to the hospital's recent launch of its Adventist Health Physicians Network, “which provides a much broader, community-based way to care for our patients and this community.”

Michael Hunn, senior vice president and regional chief executive for Providence Health & Services, Southern California, also pointed to several programs in which his network of hospitals collaborate with other agencies and providers to expand access to healthcare.

Providence has five Southern California medical centers, including Providence St. Joseph in Burbank, Providence Holy Cross in Mission Hills and Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance.

Part of that collective work, he said, must include cost reduction.

“Ultimately, we have to reduce the total cost of care,” Hunn said. “The Supreme Court decision doesn't change that.”

Staff writers Mark Kellam, Joe Piasecki, Daniel Siegal and Maria Hsin contributed reporting.

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