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Are Academic Medical Centers Toast in a Post-Healthcare Reform World?

My hospital, UCSF Medical Center, is thriving. Our profits this year will be nearly $200 million. We’re building a sparkling clinical complex – a combined women’s, children’s, and cancer hospital – adjacent to our new downtown biomedical research campus. We are installing a state-of-the-art computer system. US News & World Report calls us the 7th best hospital in the country. Our students, residents, and fellows have never been better.

Yet angst is in the air, borne of a sense that the future is coming at us fast, and we are not prepared.

We’re not alone, mind you. Every hospital enjoying a positive bottom line today is contemplating a bleaker future. Traditionally, hospitals planned to lose about 30% on every Medicaid patient and 5-10% on every Medicare patient, while banking enough profits from commercially insured patients to make the math work out. All of these payers – both governmental and private – are getting stingier, and this latticework of cross-subsidies will soon be a fading memory.

This threat to profitability is roiling hospital board rooms everywhere, but the threats to academic medical centers seem particularly daunting. After all, the community hospital simply (I guess that should be “simply”) needs to make enough of a profit to refurbish the physical plant, pay everybody’s salaries, keep the docs and nurses happy, and save for a rainy day. Academic medical centers, on the other hand, suffer from a different problem: Mission-O-Megaly.Continue reading…

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