The North Olympic Peninsula’s three Democratic lawmakers were enthusiastic that the $52.2 billion draft state Senate operating budget includes funding for Olympic Medical Center.
Eric Lewis, chief executive officer of the hospital that serves some 70,000 residents of Clallam County, was right there with them after the Senate budget was unveiled on March 29.
A 2018 budget proviso in Medicaid reimbursement funding for OMC in Port Angeles and Grays Harbor Community Hospital in Aberdeen likely will be extended, the 24th District lawmakers who represent Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County said last week.
“This makes sure the hospital can stay on solid financial footing and continue to provide care for the people of that area who depend on it,” state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim said in an email.
“Access to care has never been more important and this is the only option available to many, many households.”
The proviso is not contained in the House budget, but Van De Wege had no doubt both chambers would approve it.
“We will have to make sure it’s in the final budget,” he said in an interview.
His 24th District colleagues, state Reps. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Mike Chapman of Port Angeles, also said they would devote energy to including the proviso in the final budget package.
“Steve supports it, I support it, it just didn’t make it into the House budget,” Chapman said on March 29.
“It’s all good. I’m confident we’ll find that money to restore to OMC.”
Lewis said he welcomes the Medicaid reimbursement funds given the $3.4 million the hospital will lose in 2019 and 2020 in federal Medicare reimbursements to off-site clinics.
“This becomes even more important,” he said of the proviso.
Medicaid is funded mainly by the federal government and run by state governments.
Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and for younger people with disabilities.
“It being in the Senate budget is a really big deal,” Lewis said.
“The budget is very challenged because of the cost of K-12 funding with the McCleary settlement.”
He said it will help provide health care access to a community with 22,000 people on Medicaid, nearly one-third Clallam County’s population.
The funds will help pay for physician clinics and outpatient care at cancer and heart centers.
“All the outpatient services OMC does are possibly impacted by this,” he said.
“If this is not approved, we would lose $1.5 million of revenue.
“We would have to look at our expenses and have to reduces expenses by $1.5 mil-lion just because we have to balance the budget.”
Morse Creek curve
The Senate plan does not include the $2.5 million in funding for a safety barrier for the Morse Creek curve east of Port Angeles that is included in the House budget.
The House and Senate will approve one spending plan and whether it will include safety barrier funding remains an open question.
Tharinger and Chapman said they favor adding the funding, while Van De Wege takes into account tax critic Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 Nov. 5 ballot measure to limit motor vehicle taxes and fees.
“I don’t know what the end game will be for the transportation budget,” Van De Wege said.
He said he is “100 percent in favor” of funding the barrier, which tops the list for safety-improvement needs out of 42 urban-nonfreeway locations in the state Department of Transportation’s Olympic Region.
“I have some hesitation there with how the initiative turns out, then we would have to pull back on stuff we promised.”
Tharinger said he favors the funding regardless of how I-976 turns out and does not accept the Senate’s position of not funding member-sponsored projects such as the Morse Creek barrier, sponsored by Chapman.
“Tim Eyman does not run the state’s transportation budget,” Tharinger said.
“It’s irresponsible for us to hold up the budget process in transportation dependent on what he is doing or proposing to do.”
The state’s transportation system needs constant upgrades, Tharinger said.
The U.S. Highway 101 curve, site of four vehicle fatalities since 2008 and 250 crashes between 2007 and August 2018, presents “a huge safety need,” he said.
“We need to move forward and do what we were elected to do.
“If something happens in the initiative process, then we will just come back when we come back into session and appropriate it.
“The point is, it’s not worth holding up the budget on speculation,” Tharinger said.
Senior staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladaily news.com.