Cosgrove on the financial toll to hospitals if Senate passes healthcare reform bill

Hospital CEOs say the financial situation will be dire if the Senate passes its proposed healthcare reform legislation, and that Congress should instead address the root cause of the problem—out-of-control healthcare costs.

Hospitals across the country could be in big financial trouble if the Senate approves the current version of the Republican Better Care Reconciliation Act warns Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, M.D., just one of many hospital CEOs who have sounded alarms about the proposed legislation and urge true policy reform.

Toby Cosgrove
Toby Cosgrove

As it stands now, even insured patients have difficulty paying hospital bills. The addition of millions more to the ranks of the uninsured would add to the bad debt that many hospitals struggle with, Cosgrove told CNBC Wednesday. He is just one of many hospital CEOs this week who have spoken out against the Senate bill and the damage it will cause.

Related: Study: 2 in 3 patients don’t pay their hospital bills in full

"If you have more patients coming in that are not paid, you're going to have hospitals that are in very deep financial trouble," Cosgrove told CNBC's "Squawk Box." "And this is particularly true of rural hospitals and safety-net hospitals, which are very dependent on Medicare and Medicaid for their returns."

Hospitals will close, doctor burnout will increase

The situation will be in dire for Texas hospitals if the bill passes, Britt Berrett, former president of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas who now heads the University of Texas at Dallas’ undergraduate health administration program, told the Palestine Herald Press. Hospitals will absolutely close, he said.

And doctors, already suffering from high rates of burnout, will be put under even more stress as they try to find care for millions of uninsured patients, said Michael Wagner, president and CEO of Tufts Medical Center. “It’s basically, ‘Good luck trying to find the right treatment for your patient—and by the way, it happens to be the poor and disadvantaged who will lose access to healthcare, but who cares about them,” Wagner told The Boston Herald. “You know who cares about them? The doctors and nurses care about them.”

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Cosgrove says Congress should instead address the root cause of the problem—out-of-control healthcare costs.

Kenneth Davis, M.D., president and CEO of the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, agrees that Congress isn’t targeting the issues that truly address healthcare costs. In an interview with PBS News Hour, he said the industry must focus on a different way to deliver healthcare that is more cost-efficient.

“The system is failing us,” he said. “The macroeconomics of healthcare are such that the government can’t afford it, the states can’t afford it, the employers can’t afford it, and the employees can’t afford it. What we have got to ask is, what’s wrong with the system and how do we change it so that it’s more efficient for everybody?”

Last week, in a post on LinkedIn, Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, also said lawmakers must work to bend the healthcare cost curve. “It’s possible to achieve more efficient and effective care delivery if we work together. Any proposal moving forward should accelerate work to achieve high-quality, affordable and accessible healthcare,” he wrote.