Oregon Medical Providers Band Together in Effort to Keep Practices Afloat Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Oregon Clinic

An Oregon coalition of independent medical clinics supports Gov. Kate Brown’s priority to resume elective surgeries and procedures when certain criteria for public health safety are met during this COVID crisis. This is a wise, safe and pragmatic step in the right direction to serve the medical needs of Oregonians. At the same time, Oregon’s independent medical clinics still need more federal and state support to allow these businesses to stay viable during the pandemic and after the crisis fades.

April 15, 2020 – Seven independent medical provider groups in Oregon have formed a coalition to work together during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this week reached out to state and federal officials with a unified message: We need help. 

The medical providers want to shed light on a gap in the recent federal CARES Act and inform public officials about the dire financial situation independent medical groups are facing. The coalition’s top priority is finding ways for Oregon’s independent physician groups to remain viable through the pandemic in order to serve patients when it becomes safe to see more patients. 

“Without urgent financial support, independent medical groups are at serious risk of collapse,” said Dr. Richard Jamison, President of The Oregon Clinic. “Independent medical providers represent 60% of the providers in Oregon, and we play an important role in the delivery of healthcare throughout Oregon and as do others across the country.”

Oregon’s coalition of seven independent healthcare providers includes The Oregon Clinic, The Portland Clinic, Women’s Healthcare Associates, The Corvallis Clinic, The Oregon Medical Group, The North Bend Medical Center, and Oregon Reproductive Medicine. These groups provide critical, necessary healthcare to 655,000 urban and rural Oregonians at more than 2,265,000 patient visits each year. Together, these clinics employ over 3,000 medical professionals who are on the front lines daily.

The coalition members, normally competitors, began in February to share resources and informal best-practices for preparing for COVID-19. As the crisis evolved, they have been working together to ensure the continuity of Oregon’s healthcare system by sending a unified message to state and federal leaders to bring awareness and solutions the problem. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, medical groups are unable to provide basic, non-emergency necessary health care.  For example, colonoscopies, some cancer treatments, hernia repairs, ear tubes for children, cardiology testing, adult annual physicals, audiology exams, and eye surgeries are all being delayed. The need for these services is not going away; indeed, health care providers expect to see an influx of patients requesting appointments post-pandemic. However, providers fear they may not be able to keep their doors open that long. Despite pay cuts, furloughs, and reduction in staff hours, many of Oregon’s independent medical practices don’t have the financial backing to stay afloat much longer. 

The coalition is requesting Oregon’s congressional representatives help ensure the funding for healthcare in the CARES Act and future legislation supports independent medical groups like theirs, in addition to hospitals, to remain functional in the wake of this pandemic. 

“We are grateful for the funding that has been provided so far from the CARES Act,” said John Burles, CEO of North Bend Medical Center “Unfortunately, given the scale of the situation, we will need much more funding to remain solvent through the crisis.” 

The group is deeply concerned that the infrastructure of health care delivery in Oregon will break apart and will not be in place to serve Oregonians after the COVID-19 crisis fades. The medical services these independent practices provide are still necessary, and in the near future, the 655,000 patients they serve will need them again.

From the federal government, the coalition requests: 

– Expand the current grant funding from the CARES Act to include Medicare Advantage and Medicaid patients. On April 13, HHS released grant funding based solely on traditional Medicare funding. In addition, provide at least $150 billion in new funding for medical providers like our clinics and hospitals.

– Offer grant funding for specialized services such as OB/GYN and reproductive services.

– Request that commercial insurance companies offer financial support to independent practices based on savings from unused insurance premiums.

On the State of Oregon level, the group is looking forward to working with Governor Kate Brown on:

– A plan to allow elective/non-emergency surgeries to resume as part of the first wave of relaxing COVID restrictions.

– Using funds provided by the CARES Act Emergency Relief Fund to assist our key medical providers. Oregon is expected to get approximately $1.6 billion.

– Considering pausing the collection of the first and second quarter of The Corporate Activities Tax for these private independent health clinics.

– Issuing an executive order to commercial insurance plans to pay for telephone/audio only visits at the same rate as audio/video and in-person visits.

Members of the coalition:

John Burles, CEO, North Bend Medical Center
Rod Aust, CEO, ORM Fertility
Karen Weiner, MD, CEO, Oregon Medical Group
Ed Kelly, CEO, The Corvallis Clinic
Tom Sanchez, CEO, The Oregon Clinic
Dick Clark, CEO, The Portland Clinic
Brian Kelly, CEO, Women’s Healthcare Associates