Senators Reintroduce Legislation To Aid Rural Hospitals

Bill Would Help Facilities Remain Open With Fair Reimbursement Payments

Thursday, February 16, 2017

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure hospitals are fairly reimbursed for their services by the federal government. 

The budget-neutral Fair Medicare Hospital Payments Act of 2017 (S.397) would help hospitals remain open and functioning, especially in underserved and economically struggling regions by correcting a flawed formula that results in disproportionately low Medicare reimbursement payments to hospitals in rural and low-wage areas. 

“Too many rural hospitals have been forced to close in recent years, and hospitals in states like Georgia are at a unique disadvantage because of the way these Medicare payments are calculated,” said Senator Isakson, a member of the Senate Committee on Finance. “This legislation would address the discrepancy in payments, help to prevent future closures of hospitals in medically underserved areas, enable hospitals to boost wages in economically struggling regions, and ensure patients have access to emergency and needed care.” 

Specifically, the Fair Medicare Hospital Payments Act would establish a national minimum “area wage index” of 0.874. The area wage index is based on the relative hospital wage level in the hospital’s geographic area compared to the national average. Over the past three decades, legislative and regulatory changes have combined with broader economic trends to create an uneven playing field that has resulted in hospitals losing out on millions of dollars in Medicare payments annually, said officials. 

In Georgia, there are more than 100 hospitals that would benefit from a minimum area wage index that currently have an index below 0.874. Since 2010, five Georgia hospitals have closed that would have benefited from Senator Isakson’s legislation. The legislation has been endorsed by the Georgia Hospital Association and the National Rural Health Association. 

Along with Sen. Isakson, the Fair Medicare Hospital Payments Act was introduced by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Mark Warner, D-Va., Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala. 

“Tennessee hospitals, like many hospitals across the country, have seen drastic decreases in Medicare payments while other areas of the country get more for the same services because of a flawed reimbursement formula in Medicare,” said Senator Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. “This legislation will help protect hospitals in Tennessee from these shrinking Medicare reimbursements that make it harder for them to recruit staff, care for patients and stay in business.” 

“Ohioans who live in underserved communities should not have their access to healthcare threatened by a broken federal formula,” said Senator Brown. “Hospitals serving our most vulnerable areas that are economically struggling encounter enough challenges without unfair reimbursement rates further complicating their ability to care for patients. By correcting this discrepancy, we can strengthen healthcare in our rural and underserved communities and help ensure patients continue to receive medical care close to home.” 

“Healthcare centers in rural areas already face unique challenges in providing care to underserved communities, and the federal government’s inability to provide a balanced payment system for services provided to Medicare beneficiaries only exacerbates these problems,” said Senator Warner. “This is particularly true in Virginia, where four of the Commonwealth’s 13 statistical areas would benefit from a change in this payment formula. Our bipartisan legislation provides the funding Virginia’s rural hospitals need and helps them remain financially viable while providing care that is not dependent on cost.” 

“Rural hospitals play a vital role in delivering care to Virginians but face too many threats to their long-term viability,” said Senator Kaine. “By establishing a national minimum ‘area wage index’ for Medicare reimbursement, the bipartisan Fair Medicare Hospital Payments Act will remove one of these threats to the future of rural hospitals and will improve the delivery of care for rural communities in Virginia.” 

“I’m proud to support legislation that will help to even the playing field for rural hospitals that are penalized because of the current wage index reimbursement formula,” said Senator Shelby. “Without a more equitable methodology, hospitals in Alabama and across the nation will be forced to close their doors, negatively impacting patients and the overall quality of care. I am committed to ensuring that Alabama and its rural hospitals receive a more fair calculation compared to the current system that picks clear winners and losers.” 



Morning Pointe Senior Living Donates $3,000 To Partnership Food Pantry

Partnership for Families, Children and Adults is appreciative to be the recipient of a $3,000 donation from Morning Pointe Senior Living to continue the work of an elder food pantry.    The pantry is accessible to seniors and disabled individuals who are either working with Partnership FCA case managers or enrolled in the Homemakers program. In the three years ... (click for more)

Stewart To Serve As 2017 Great Strides’ Community Chair

Cleveland business leader Lee Stewart will serve as community chair for Great Strides 2017, according to campaign officials at Lee University. The 17th annual Great Strides Walk and 15th annual 65 Roses 5K, which raises funds and awareness for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, will be held on Saturday, April 1.  “It will be a pleasure to serve with Lee Stewart, who has agreed ... (click for more)

Signal School Study Says Under Own School System Much More Could Go To The Classroom; Lennon Says Getting Land, Buildings A Major Issue

A panel studying a new school system operated by Signal Mountain concluded that much more money could go directly into the classroom, helping students further increase their potential.   However, County School Board member Kathy Lennon said how the town would be able to acquire the land and buildings is a major issue.   A group of Signal Mountain residents ... (click for more)

Man, 39, Shot Late Friday Night In The Vicinity Of North Chamberlain Avenue

Police said a 39-year-old man was shot late Friday night in the vicinity of North Chamberlain Avenue.   He was identified as Ruben Williams Sr.   Officers with the Chattanooga Police Department were informed just before midnight that a shooting victim arrived at a local hospital via personal vehicle.   Officers made contact with the victim who advised ... (click for more)

CVB Should Share Financials With The Home Folks

The recent debate over the Convention and Visitor's Bureau's funding and budget has gotten ugly. A Hamilton County commissioner has asked questions and made comments about the CVB. The director of the CVB has organized a campaign to dismiss the commissioner's questions and comments. The children on the playground are choosing sides and nothing useful seems to be happening. It's ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Trump's Latest Delight

I was quite amused this week when Donald Trump’s administration “locked out” several news organizations from the daily press briefings at the White House. The reason I loved it because in the 50 years I have spent in the news business, I have been locked out of press conferences, too. To be truthful, I am a longtime veteran of a bunch of “you versus me” squabbles and, if I do say, ... (click for more)