OUR OPINION: Rural hospitals require sufficient Medicare funds

By NEMS Daily Journal

Many rural Mississippi hospitals operate on thin financial margins dependent in substantial measure on the reimbursement rate from federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare.
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., has raised payment issues for a category of medical centers called Critical Access Hospitals operating 24/7 emergency rooms.
Cochran raised the issue because the payment rate could be reduced under President Obama’s budget – which has been proposed but not approved – for 2014 and in relation to implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Cochran, who is serving his sixth term and is at or near the top of seniority on most committees and subcommittees of which he is a member, raised the issue last week during a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.
He specifically cited Obama proposals to reduce Medicare support for Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who testified.
Mississippi has 32 CAH category hospitals, including Pontotoc, Aberdeen and Calhoun City.
Cochran correctly noted that rural hospitals in Mississippi are “anxious about the proposed health care changes incorporated into the President’s FY2014 budget, as well as the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014,” as cited in a release from his Washington office.
The Mississippi Hospital Association, other members of the Washington delegation and state officials are aware of the concerns.
“We have a large number of poor people living in many Southern states … They are worried now, though, about how these budget reductions … might affect them in an adverse way,” Cochran said.
Obama’s budget calls for reducing reimbursement from 101 percent of “reasonable costs” to 100 percent.
In the rural hospital business 1 percent can mean the difference between service or no service, or even survival.
Letters of support for adequate rural hospital payment from Medicare can be sent to Secretary Sebelius at U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201.

AN UPDATED LIST OF CAHS IN MISSISSIPPI:
1. Calhoun City
2. Ackerman
3. Collins
4. Centreville
5. Meadville
6. Leakesville
7. Quitman
8. Hazlehurst
9. Lexington
10. Prentiss
11. DeKalb
12. Yazoo City
13. Union
14. Monticello
15. Carthage
16. Ruleville
17. Macon
18. Port Gibson
19. Belzoni
20. Poplarville
21. Richton
22. Aberdeen
23. Newton
24. Pontotoc
25. Marks
26. Forest
27. Morton
28. Mendenhall
29. Wiggins
30. Charleston
31. Winona
32. Tylertown