The new Billings Clinic kidney dialysis center will provide access to life-sustaining treatment for the growing number of people in the Billings region who need it. The clinic's present dialysis center is at capacity; the new facility has 36 chairs and four rooms to serve patients who do dialysis at home — double the present center's capacity.
Not only will the Billings Clinic Dialysis Center at Seventh Avenue North and North 25th Street meet the growing need for crucial health care, it contributes to the local economy. The $3.9 million construction project was designed and built by local firms: CTA Architects, Sanderson Stewart and Fisher Construction. It's effectively a downtown renewal project that replaced dilapidated structures with an attractive 114,309 square foot medical facility all on one level with parking and landscaping.
The center will open as soon as next week with a staff of 35, including employees of Billings Clinic and Dialysis Clinic Inc., the clinic's partner. DCI, a nonprofit corporation that operates dialysis centers nationwide, has partnered with Billings Clinic for years and also operates a dialysis center on the West End.
The expanded dialysis center is one of the latest examples of how Montana's community hospitals contribute to the state economy. Montana's hospitals account for nearly 7 percent of the state's private sector employment and almost 10 percent of private sector wages, according to a report released Tuesday by the Montana Hospital Association and the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
"Health care in general, and hospitals in particular, are at the heart of every regional economy in Montana," BBER Director Patrick Barkey said in a news release.
Among the findings of the BBER's research:
- Montana's non-governmental hospitals employed 24,526 people with a payroll of over $1.5 billion in 2017.
- The average annual wage for Montana's hospital employees is 150 percent of the average annual wage for all private industry employees.
- For every hospital job added or lost, an additional 1.2 jobs are created or destroyed throughout the state economy.
- For every Medicaid dollar paid by Montana taxpayers, federal taxpayers match it with $1.89.
- For every $1 of reduced Montana Medicaid spending, the economy forgoes $2.89.
- Medicaid funds paid to Montana hospitals provide 12,000 jobs.
Montana is among the majority of states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility to all people with incomes below 138 percent of poverty level — regardless of age. The enrollment of nearly 100,000 Montanans in the expansion authorized by the federal Affordable Care Act has significantly reduced charity and bad debt write-offs for Montana hospitals. That means our hospitals, which treat Montanans in need regardless of ability to pay, are getting paid for a larger portion of their patient load.
On the other hand, Medicaid rates are significantly less than private insurance pays. Some Montanans that became eligible under Medicaid expansion switched from federally subsidized private insurance, a change that saved the government money, but reduced reimbursement to hospitals.
The Affordable Care Act anticipated that hospitals would see reductions in uncompensated care with Medicaid expansion and reduced Medicare's future payments for "disproportionate share" care of uninsured patients. Overall, Medicaid expansion has been positive for Montana. Fewer Montana hospitals posted negative annual operating margins after Medicaid expansion took effect in January 2017.
Hospitals in states that didn't expand Medicaid coverage are severely disadvantaged. Nationwide, 102 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. Most have closed in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid with Texas alone losing 17 rural hospitals. Fortunately, none have closed in Montana.
Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare, along with small hospitals in Livingston, Big Timber, Columbus, Forsyth, Miles City, Glendive and Glasgow are major employers and major contributors to the local economy. Our private, nonprofit hospitals do more than health care for Montana communities large and small.