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Medicare, Medicaid payment boost sought for rural hospitals

WASHINGTON – Rural hospitals in Washington and around the country would receive more federal money for Medicare and Medicaid patients through legislation introduced recently by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

The legislation is designed to help medical facilities that have a high proportion of patients on Medicare and Medicaid, a situation common in many rural communities. The bill would send more money to so-called Disproportionate Share Hospitals by removing the current cap on annual payments to those facilities, said Todd Winer, spokesman for the Republican congresswoman.

It also would allow an additional payment to rural facilities and laboratories, increase the payment to rural health clinics from $78 to $101 per visit, and raise payments to rural home health providers by 5 percent.

Sponsors don’t know where Congress will get the money to pay for the bill, but are looking for offsets in other parts of the federal budget, said Riva Litman, a spokeswoman for McMorris Rodgers.

Don Wee, CEO of Tri-State Memorial Hospital in Clarkston, said the bill would bring more payment equity to rural hospitals, which have low profit margins.

The bill also aims at easing another problem faced by rural communities: the shortage of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. In some rural communities, health care providers such as nurses can’t make enough to support themselves and their families, said Scott Adams, CEO of Pullman Regional Hospital. With higher reimbursements proposed in the bill for Medicare and Medicaid patients, hospitals would be able to pay their doctors and nurses more.

The proposal “supports rural hospitals so they can have needed services,” Adams said.

Phoebe Zhang,a graduate student in the University of Missouri’s Washington, D.C., Reporting Program,works as a correspondent for The Spokesman-Review.