County keeps Health Net through June 30

Assessor asks Providence to justify tax-exemption requests

Hood River County has a solution to its health coverage issue for county employees — for now, at least.

The county’s health insurance provider, Health Net, informed the county that it is willing to cover all out-of-network coverage costs for the first 90 days of 2013, and then cover them with a 10 percent co-pay increase for the final 90 days of the current plan year.

The plan year for the county ends June 30, 2013.

The county was sent scrambling for health coverage options in the fall when Providence Health and Services announced it was ending its contract with Health Net, meaning that those with Health Net plans using Providence services would incur out-of-network costs.

County Administrator David Meriwether said that the county looked at other options, but was on a short time frame to do so. Eventually Health Net agreed to cover the costs through the end of the plan year.

Meriwether said the county is now beginning the process of examining its options for after June 30, and that the benefits committee hopes to have a recommendation for the county board of commissioners by April.

The decision by Providence to sever the Health Net contract drew a fierce response in Hood River, where Providence is the major medical provider, having acquired numerous practices in the area in recent years and operating the only hospital in the county.

In a corporate-level statement Providence said that it offered Health Net the opportunity to continue operating the current contract, but only in Hood River and Seaside through June of 2013, and that Health Net had declined.

“We pledge to work with people during this transition. Providence contracts with more than a dozen other health insurers, which allows residents to continue receiving care from their local hospital and physicians,” Providence’s statement reads.

“If you are receiving a medically necessary and active course of treatment from a Providence provider and meet other conditions, you may be able to continue receiving care from that provider at the current participating benefit level for a specified period of time, depending on your benefit plan after the Providence-Health Net agreement has terminated. You will need to contact Health Net Customer Service to determine if you are eligible for continuity of care, and for how long you may be able to receive services.”

In a move unrelated to the health care dispute, but certainly related to the number of medical practices Providence has acquired in recent years, the county assessor’s office confirmed that it had asked Providence to justify its request for tax-exempt status tied to the practices it has acquired.

Religious hospitals are typically given tax-exempt status, but county director of records and assessment Brian Beebe said the large number of applications made it difficult to grant the request out of hand.

Beebe said that Providence requested tax-exempt status on five properties over the last year and that he had asked “them prove that they are charitable with their operations.”

In November the Oregonian reported that assessors around the state were becoming less amiable for granting tax-exemptions to new properties acquired by religious hospitals.

According to the Oregonian, Mercy Hospital in Roseburg has appealed a tax-exemption denial by cash-strapped Douglas County on properties worth $18 million.

Beebe did not deny Providence’s request, but was awaiting further information from them before he would consider approving it. He said he had not received a response from Providence and noted that other counties had also not received any response when they requested other hospitals to justify similar requests.

“I don’t expect this to be any different,” he said.

“It’s a statewide issue,” Beebe said of the tax-exemption requests. “There is some ambiguity, but there are some court cases that go on both sides of the issue.”

Providence spokespersons did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.

Without a response from Providence, the properties will continue to be non-exempt and the county will continue to collect taxes on them.

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