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Anchorage hospitals continue tug-of-war over ER beds

Anchorage's two largest hospitals are continuing their struggle over the limited share of emergency room beds that can be built in the next several years, with both Alaska Regional Hospital and Providence Alaska Medical Center filing appeals over the state's recent allocation decision.

An oversupply of emergency room beds tends to push up health care costs, so most U.S. states, including Alaska, have laws limiting the capacity of emergency rooms, as well as other medical services and facilities. Until the year 2022, no more than 13 beds can be added anywhere in the Municipality of Anchorage, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

In July, Providence Alaska Medical Center received permission from the department to add eight emergency treatment rooms, six fewer than it requested. Department commissioner Valerie Davidson wrote that she did not allocate all the additional emergency capacity solely to Providence because she was concerned about concentrating the city's emergency services too heavily in one location.

Alaska Regional Hospital's proposal to add satellite medical facilities in Eagle River and South Anchorage was denied on the grounds it would drive up health care costs unnecessarily by charging extra fees for treating ear infections, fevers and other non-life-threatening ailments and provide inefficient care in high-trauma cases because the so-called "Free-Standing Emergency Departments" would not be able to fully treat acute illnesses or injuries.

The two hospitals recently filed appeals, released on Monday to Alaska Dispatch News. Both accused the department of making unwarranted assumptions about costs and the best interests of the public, among other complaints.

Jared Kosin, executive director at the department's Office of Rate Review, said the appeals will be heard before an administrative law judge, who will write a proposed decision to Davidson. The commissioner will then make a final decision. Any subsequent appeals would be made in court.

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