Legislators oppose changes in rural hospital fundingA quartet of Wisconsin legislators, including state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, have added their voices to a chorus of opposition to changes in how rural hospitals receive federal payments.
By: John Lundy , Duluth News Tribune
A quartet of Wisconsin legislators, including state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, have added their voices to a chorus of opposition to changes in how rural hospitals receive federal payments.
Under the proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services’
Office of Inspector General, any hospital that’s within 35 miles of another hospital would lose its status as a critical-access hospital. The critical-access designation gives those hospitals Medicare reimbursement by a more favorable formula.
It’s a lifesaver for rural hospitals, Jauch said in a statement.
Without it, “the simple fact is that many of these hospitals would not be open, and the rural citizens they serve would be deprived of having access to quality health-care services,” Jauch said.
If the inspector general’s proposal becomes law, 53 of Wisconsin’s 58 critical-access hospitals would lose their status, said Terry Jacobson, administrator of Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior.
In Minnesota, 71 of 79 critical-access hospitals would lose that designation, according to the Minnesota Hospital Association.
Eleven hospitals in the Northland would be affected, said Terry Hill,
executive director of the Duluth-based National Rural Health Resource Center.
The impact would be devastating, he said, particularly in regions where small hospitals already are struggling.
“I’m sure … that since a lot of hospitals are doing poorly already, losing cost-based reimbursement would certainly close a whole lot of them,” he said.
The effect on St. Mary’s Hospital-Superior probably wouldn’t be that cataclysmic, Jacobson said, but it certainly would be felt.
The biggest impact: As a critical-access hospital, St. Mary’s can have “swing beds.” Those are beds that can be used for inpatient treatment or for skilled nursing, such as patients recovering from hip surgery or receiving wound care, Jacobson explained. If it were no longer a
critical-access hospital, it could only offer inpatient care.
The inspector general’s report, issued earlier this month, predicted substantial savings if its proposal is approved. For example, decertifying just half of the hospitals within 35 miles of another hospital would have saved Medicare an estimated $373 million in 2011, the report said.
Advocates for rural health dispute those numbers, Hill said. “The data they’re using we believe is not accurate.”
The proposal can’t go into effect without an act of Congress. That’s why Jauch and three other legislators wrote a letter to Wisconsin’s congressional delegation asking them to oppose the change. More than 80 legislators signed the letter.
They have a certain ally in Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. She told staff members at St. Mary’s-Superior last week that the proposal was “the wrong direction in which to go.”
The Minnesota Hospital Association sent its own letter to Minnesota’s congressional delegation this month to oppose the proposal.