Headline: Health care bill passes U.S. House | VailDaily.com

Headline: Health care bill passes U.S. House

McInnis' provisions for rural health care now head to the Senate

Several health care provisions designed to strengthen rural hospitals and improve health care for seniors are one step closer approval in Washington.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed last week the Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act of 2002, a broader health care bill that included Medicare Rural Access Preservation Act, legislation proposed by Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction. The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

The legislative provisions sponsored by McInnis were designed to guarantee access to affordable and high-quality health care services in rural Colorado communities. The package, McInnis says, will benefit rural Coloradans by increasing Medicare reimbursement levels for sole community and critical access hospitals, home health care agencies and home hospice providers.

“If the proposed legislation passes, Vail Valley Medical Center will see an increase in the reimbursement for Medicare and hospice services, which are currently less than the hospital costs,” says Shaun Scanlon, senior vice president and chief financial officer of the Vail Valley Medical Center.

VVMC is one of 26 sole community hospitals in Colorado. Other include Mercy Medical Center in Durango, Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs and Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center in Walsenburg. The hospital also provides hospice services.

“Any improvement in reimbursement in Medicare will make a big impact on us,” Scanlon said.

Although a large portion of VVMC business comes from commercial insurance and managed care – Medicare and Medicaid account for 13 percent of the business at the hospital in Vail, compared to 30 to 40 percent in city hospitals – Scanlon says the hospital still loses about $300,000 a year over Medicare services.

“If we can get to a place where we can break even and not lose money on government programs, that means we won’t have to make it up from non-governmental payers,” he says.

Sole community hospitals are facing uncertain reimbursement levels under new Medicare payment programs. The proposed legislation, if signed into law, would prevent these hospitals from potential cuts and allow better data to be collected to determine reimbursement rates.

“Vail Valley Medical Center loses money with Medicare, but because we have a large younger population in the valley, we’re not so impacted by Medicare reimbursements,” Scanlon says. “However, any improvements will help us do our job better.”

As part of the proposed legislation, hospice providers serving frontier areas, including Leadville and Glenwood Springs, will receive a 15 percent increase above the current per day rate to compensate for the increased expenses; and home health care agencies will receive a 20 percent increase for services furnished in frontier areas.

Under hospice care for rural areas, Medicare reimbursement rates are set at the lowest levels.

“Rural Coloradans deserve access to quality and dependable health care,” says McInnis, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. “The proposals I have worked to include in the Medicare and Prescription Drug Act will ensure that the rural communities are included in the big picture.”

The Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act of 2002, or HR 4954, also amends the Social Security Act to provide a voluntary program to modernize and reform payments for prescription drug coverage under the Medicare Program.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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