31 senators call for higher Medicare pay for rural hospitals

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Dec. 17, 2012

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A bipartisan group of senators is urging colleagues to support legislation to help rural hospitals recover losses under the Medicare program.

The 2010 health system reform law revised criteria for the Medicare low-volume hospital program, which allows for higher payments for hospitals with fewer than 1,600 Medicare discharges per year and that are at least 15 miles from another hospital. The program is designed to ensure patient access to inpatient services.

The provision is set to expire on Dec. 31, but the Rural Hospital Access Act of 2012 would extend for another year the increase for low-volume hospitals and the Medicare Dependent Hospital program, which aids facilities with at least 60% inpatient stays or discharges covered by Medicare. The bill is being championed by Sens. Charles Schumer (D, N.Y.) and Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa).

“Rural hospitals deliver health care to more than 60 million Americans and are the health and economic backbone for communities across our nation,” 31 senators wrote in a Dec. 3 letter to leaders of the Senate Finance Committee. “These small, hardworking hospitals are often the sole source of comprehensive health care in their area, and are typically the largest employer, and economic engine, in the communities they serve.”

An extension of the hospital provisions could be included in legislation to prevent a 26.5% cut to Medicare physician pay in 2013 as mandated by the sustainable growth rate formula.

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