McInnis’ rural health provisions pass U.S. House committee |

McInnis’ rural health provisions pass U.S. House committee

Veronica Whitney

U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, has succeeded in including in a broader health-care bill several provisions of legislation he designed to strengthen rural hospitals and improve health care for the nation’s seniors.

Provisions from McInnis’ bill, HR 4112, the “Medicare Rural Access Preservation Act,” were included in the new “Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act of 2002” introduced last week in the House. The broader bill so far has not been scheduled for a vote on the House floor.

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

Coloradans deserve access to quality and dependable health care, said McInnis, adding that the proposals he’s included in the Medicare package will ensure that the rural communities are included in the big picture.

Shaun Scanlon, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Vail Valley Medical Center, said 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.

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

Vail Valley Medical Center is one of 26 sole community hospitals in Colorado ranging from Mercy Medical Center in Durango to Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs to Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center in Walsenburg. The hospital also provides hospice services.

Although a large portion of VVMC business comes from commercial insurance and managed care – Medicare and Medicaid accounts for 13 percent of the business at the hospital in Vail compared to 30 to 40 percent in city hospitals – Scanlon said 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,” Scanlon said.

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

“As the Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug bill came together, I felt it was crucial to include measures to ensure rural Coloradans and rural Americans have access to quality health care,” McInnis said. “Addressing the health-care concerns of rural Colorado goes hand-in-hand with ensuring the health-care safety net in rural areas remains strong.”

Scanlon said that, in spite of losing money with Medicare, VVMC is in a fortunate position because of the demographics in the valley.

“I came from a big hospital in Massachusetts, where 40 percent of our patients were Medicare. In the valley, because of a large younger population, we’re not so impacted by Medicare reimbursements,” he said. “However, any improvements will help us do our job better.”

Also, 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.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at

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