Virginia Hospitals Support Behavioral Health, Cybersecurity Proposals, New Mason-Dixon Poll Shows Majority of Virginians Want Restraint on Major Health Care Policy Changes Due to Washington Uncertainty

January 18, 2017

Virginia Hospitals Ask Elected Leaders to “Do No Harm” to the Health Care Delivery System During the 2017 General Assembly Session; New Polling Shows Majority of Virginians Concerned about the Future of Health Care, Oppose COPN Repeal, And Want Richmond Leaders to Wait and See What Happens in Washington Before Acting; Coalition of Chambers of Commerce and Localities Stand with Hospitals on COPN

RICHMOND, VA – Health care policy deliberations are dominating much of the bandwidth in Washington at the moment. As the Virginia General Assembly session gets underway, there is also some discussion about making major alterations to state health care policy. In conversations with leaders in Washington and Richmond, members of Virginia’s hospital community are asking policymakers to focus on enhancing health care on behalf of patients and Virginians as they consider policy revisions.

Health care providers and patients have been through considerable transformation and upheaval in recent years. And with uncertainty looming in Washington, even more dramatic health care policy change is likely. Due to this uncertainty, the hospital and health system community in Virginia is urging elected leaders and policymakers to “Do No Harm” to the health care delivery system that serves millions of patients, employs thousands of people in good-paying jobs, and powers our local and state economies.

Several Virginia legislative leaders have expressed a preference for waiting to see what Washington does before pursuing significant state health care policy changes. The Virginia hospital community believes that is a well-reasoned approach given the present uncertainty about the potential impacts of decisions made in Washington.

“Health care policy decisions made in Washington could have a dramatic impact on hospitals, our health care networks here in Virginia, and patients’ access to care,” said Mary N. Mannix, President and CEO of Augusta Health in Fishersville and Chair of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) Board of Directors. “Virginia hospitals already face $1 billion in annual cuts under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and are likely to continue even if the law is repealed. If the law is repealed without a full replacement, one estimate suggests Virginia stands to lose $2.6 billion in health care spending associated with people newly insured under the Affordable Care Act, and of that amount, hospitals could lose nearly $986 million. Those are significant sums which can have far-reaching implications for patients’ access to health care, and for Virginia’s economy. That is one reason why Virginia’s hospital community is asking lawmakers to ‘Do No Harm’ as they consider health care policy change.”

According to new polling from Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., strong majorities of Virginians are concerned about the future of health care, want lawmakers to show restraint on pursuing major state health care policy changes until there is clarity about what Washington does, and oppose the brand of COPN repeal some advocates have advanced. The poll of Virginians conducted Jan. 5-10, 2017 includes these results:

  • Three-fourths (76 percent) of Virginians are concerned about the future of Virginia’s hospitals;
  • More than two-thirds (69 percent) of Virginians are concerned that potential state and federal health care policy changes could impact their ability to access health care, and what it costs;
  • More than 8 in 10 (86 percent of) Virginians are concerned about the future of rural health care;
  • 56 percent of Virginians want the General Assembly to wait on Washington before making major health care policy changes in Richmond; and
  • By a nearly 2-to-1 margin (59 percent), a strong majority of Virginians favor our current system with COPN rather than a free market alternative.

“Health care clearly is on the minds of many Americans and many Virginians, who are concerned about how action taken in Washington and Richmond might affect their ability to access affordable health care,” said J. Brad Coker, Managing Director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. “What our recent Virginia poll found is that strong majorities of Virginians have positive feelings about their hospitals (87 percent); are concerned about the future of Virginia’s hospitals (76 percent), how policy changes in Washington might harm their health care options (69 percent), and rural health care (86 percent). They also want lawmakers in Richmond to wait on Washington before changing state health care laws (56 percent), and prefer Virginia’s health care system with current COPN rules remaining in place (59 percent). These poll results show that Virginians appreciate the health care system they now have access to, are skittish about how
changes to health care laws will impact them, and do not favor major policy shifts such as COPN repeal at this time.”

While uncertainty abounds, this session still presents an opportunity to make meaningful enhancements to Virginia’s health care system. Virginia’s hospitals this session have put forward a robust behavioral health package – to enhance the pre-admission screening process, to create an emergency psychiatric patient registry, and to establish a 24-hour stabilization period prior to a commitment hearing – and support efforts to strengthen cybersecurity standards to safeguard sensitive medical data. Virginia’s hospitals also continue to work with stakeholders on a range of other health care issues, such as combating the opioid epidemic, and enhancing graduate medical education funding.

Finding thoughtful consensus on those items is something to aspire to this session. When considering other major state health care policy reform, such as changes to the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) system, Virginia’s hospital community believes that process should not be rushed or done in haste.
“Health care is not a free market, when you consider that hospitals are reimbursed well below cost for treating Medicare and Medicaid patients, who represent a majority of inpatient admissions at most Virginia hospitals, and that hospitals are required by law to provide emergency care to all patients, regardless of ability to pay,” said Toni R. Ardabell, CEO for Bon Secours Virginia Health System and a VHHA Board Member. “Certificate of Public Need helps offset the charity care inherent in our system, while supporting access to essential health services and helping to control costs.”

Any government health care policy can have dramatic impacts on patients and hospitals. Potential policy changes now being discussed come at a time when Virginia hospitals already face serious financial challenges. Recently released data from Virginia Hospital Information show that 27 percent of Virginia’s acute care, critical access, and children’s hospitals, and more than 43 percent of rural hospitals, operated in the red during 2015. Hospital financial challenges are associated with providing charity care and adhering to government mandates, among other factors.

Speaking about the importance of hospitals as health care providers and economic engines, Hampton Roads Chamber President Bryan K. Stephens noted that Virginia hospitals employ 115,000 people in good-paying jobs, generate $36 billion in economic activity, and spend billions with local businesses.

“Just in Hampton Roads, hospitals contribute more than $25 billion in community benefit and employ more than 23,000 people,” said Stephens. “Our hospitals do important work each day. So we can’t afford policies that harm our hospitals. As a business leader, I believe in the free market. But an honest discussion of COPN requires an open acknowledgement that health care is not a free market because of the rules our government has set up. A free market system requires a level playing field. Repealing COPN would further slant an already uneven playing field.”

The Hampton Roads Chamber is one of many local and regional chambers representing small and large communities across the Commonwealth, along with several localities, that have endorsed resolutions and taken formal positions affirming the importance of COPN and opposing COPN repeal efforts. The list of COPN supporters includes:

  • City of Alexandria;
  • Augusta County;
  • Arlington County;
  • Bristol Chamber of Commerce;
  • Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce;
  • Colonial Heights Chamber of Commerce;
  • Culpeper Chamber of Commerce;
  • Fauquier Chamber of Commerce;
  • Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce;
  • Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce;
  • Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance;
  • Hampton Roads Chamber;
  • Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce;
  • Prince William Chamber of Commerce;
  • Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce;
  • The Chamber of Commerce of Smythe County;
  • City of Staunton;
  • Virginia Association of Hospital Auxiliary Volunteers;
  • City of Virginia Beach;
  • Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association;
  • Virginia Nurses Association;
  • Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce;
  • Virginia Rural Health Association;
  • City of Waynesboro;
  • Wytheville-Wythe-Bland Chamber of Commerce; and
  • York County Chamber of Commerce.

About VHHA: The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association is an alliance of 107 hospitals and 30 health delivery systems that develops and advocates for sound health care policy in the Commonwealth. Its vision is to achieve excellence in both health care and health. Its vision is through the power of collaboration to be recognized as a driving force behind making Virginia the healthiest state in the nation. Connect with VHHA through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and

Watch the Facebook Live video of the press conference at the General Assembly building below. (Note: The video switches orientation around the 2-minute mark. Apologies for the inconvenience.)

Mason-Dixon Health Care Poll Results

Coalition of Chambers of Commerce, Localities Stand with Hospitals on COPN

Poll Figures