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.” 




Free Bariatric Seminars Hosted By CHI Memorial Metabolic And Bariatric Care

Jaime Ponce, M.D. and CHI Memorial Metabolic and Bariatric Care will host free seminars in June on surgical weight loss options. The seminars will be held at CHI Memorial Metabolic and Bariatric Care, 7405 Shallowford Road, Suite 160, in Chattanooga.      June 5, 2018 ... (click for more)

Activity Director At The Bridge At Ooltewah Wins Century Park’s Customer Service Award

Bridgett Dallas, lifestyle services director at The Bridge at Ooltewah, won parent company Century Park Associates’ annual customer service award, Going the Extra Mile.   The honor was bestowed during Century Park’s Annual Management Meeting on May 10, held this year at the company’s headquarters in Cleveland.    Ms. Dallas received a cash prize. She was chosen ... (click for more)

Witnesses Say Donaldson Was Calm After Killing Son-In-Law - "I'm Just Sitting Here Waiting For The Law"

Witnesses said Glen Allen Donaldson was calm after killing his son-in-law on Dec. 29, 2016, saying, "I'm just sitting here waiting for the law." Donaldson, 57, is facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of 39-year-old Adam Levi. The jury in the courtroom of Judge Don Poole was told that Donaldson left the residence on Niles Terrace where Levi was living and drove ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Man Who Served Time For Attempted Murder Now Facing Armed Robbery Charge

A Chattanooga man who earlier served time for an attempted first-degree murder is now facing an armed robbery count. Garion Devilliar Lewis Jr., 33, of 6409 Rosemary Dr., is charged with aggravated robbery as well as drug and gun counts. In an incident on May 9, a man who no longer lives in Chattanooga said he was leaving his mother's residence on Sholar Avenue when he saw ... (click for more)

Refuting Racism

In an opinion piece, 5/18/18, Rev. Josh Woodrow referred to me and my fellow School Board member, Joe Smith, as racists and white supremacists because we spoke out against busing. I have never met or spoken with Rev. Woodrow so he knows nothing about me. The reverend obviously knows nothing about Joe Smith either. Seems one of the reverend’s hobbies is “brewing beer”. Maybe, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Please Don’t Get Numb

Several weeks ago we woke up to learn there had been another shooting in Chattanooga and the next day there were two paragraphs on the fourth page of the newspaper.  It has become so common we as a society have grown numb to it and, when a teen-aged girl in Texas said she wasn’t surprised last week when eight students and two teachers were massacred in her school some 30 miles ... (click for more)