In Superior, Baldwin stumps for rural hospitalsHealth care is one of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s passions, she said during a visit to Superior on Thursday. Lack of insurance during a significant childhood illness, followed by her grandparents’ struggle to secure insurance for a child with a pre-existing condition, sowed the seeds for a future in politics.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Health care is one of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s passions, she said during a visit to Superior on Thursday. Lack of insurance during a significant childhood illness, followed by her grandparents’ struggle to secure insurance for a child with a pre-existing condition, sowed the seeds for a future in politics.
“The issue of health care is what led me to the first political office I ever ran for, and it’s what keeps me doing this work,” Baldwin told staff at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior.
Sandwiched between a tour of the Midwest Energy Resources Company and a visit to Kestrel Aircraft, Baldwin’s visit to the hospital was punctuated by one-on-one discussions with staff. She stressed her commitment to retaining Critical Access Hospital designations for rural hospitals such as the one in Superior.
Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Officer of Inspector General recommended removing the critical access designation from hospitals that do not meet certain distance requirements. The move would save Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the report.
If the proposal is enacted, 53 of 58 Wisconsin hospitals would lose their critical access status, including St. Mary’s. It’s a whole rethinking of what a safety-net hospital is, according to Baldwin.
“In my opinion, it’s the wrong direction in which to go,” she said.
The critical access certification was created in 1997 to ensure that rural people had access to hospital services. Under the designation small, rural hospitals are reimbursed at a higher rate — 101 percent of the reasonable costs — for Medicare services.
In an Aug. 16 news release, Tim Size of the Rural Wisconsin Healthcare Cooperative said ending critical access status for most rural hospitals in Wisconsin could lead many to close their doors.
“We are celebrating our 10th year of being a Critical Access Hospital, and we’ve been able to do a lot of wonderful things because we’ve had that,” St. Mary’s Hospital Administrator Terry Jacobson said. “Knowing that program was there gave us the confidence that we could go forward and serve a lot of Medicare and Medicaid patients. That’s now all being threatened.”
Baldwin has co-authored a bipartisan letter to the Senate Finance Committee speaking out against the proposal and stressing the need for Critical Access Hospitals to meet needs. Her visit shows a commitment to represent all corners of the state, said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range.
“We have the senator here today working at separate facilities that are very important to the economy, whether it’s right now or in the future, and also a Critical Access Hospital that has been extremely important for people who live, especially, in rural Douglas County,” Milroy said. “It’s the only hospital in far northwestern Wisconsin, and it’s very important to keep the Critical Access Hospital designation for folks to have access to this type of facility.”
The Midwest Energy tour highlighted Baldwin’s vote in May to support the Water Resources Development Act, which strengthens America’s waterways and ports. At Kestrel, Baldwin learned about a collaboration between the aviation business and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College to provide hands-on internship training for students in the new composite technology program launched last week.