Cutting critical access hospitals a bad idea

Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 01:46 PM.

On Aug. 15, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report that if fully implemented, could close hundreds of rural hospitals across the nation, endangering access to health care for millions of rural patients, and actually costing the taxpayer more money.

My reason for writing is that our hospital, Weems Memorial Hospital, is a critical access hospital (CAH) that could be impacted by actions resulting from these recommendations.  We are located in Apalachicola, and have a history of providing needed care to the citizens of Franklin County.  This is possible due to our designation as a CAH. As you know, our county is a very hardworking, yet impoverished, county with many health needs here on the bay. Our continued existence is vital to this effort.

I mention this to speak of the precarious nature of facilities such as ours which not only provide needed services to the communities we serve, but are also cornerstones of economic development. As the second largest employer in the county, we provide $4.84 million in wages to the area with a net impact of $6.34 million after a 1.31 multiplier effect. Additionally, our employees generate $1.8 million in retail sales and over $120,000 in local and state sale tax.

In particular, I am concerned about the potential decertification of CAHs such as ours based upon the distance requirement, depending on what a final mileage figure would be. If the 35-miles rule were to stand without state exemption, we would be at risk of losing our CAH certification and therefore would be threatened with closure. A more moderate 10-mile rule has been discussed and would not affect us, but I remain concerned about the erosion of healthcare in our rural areas regardless of a particular mileage requirement and therefore oppose any legislative effort to decertify CAHs.

The HHS report is wrong. Eliminating critical access hospitals does not save money. CAHs save taxpayer dollars.

·  Despite CAHs representing over 22 percent of all community hospitals, Medicare expenditures to CAHs are less than 5 percent of the Medicare hospital budget.

·  CAHs provide cost-effective primary care. In fact, in comparing identical Medicare services in a rural setting to an urban setting, the cost of care in a rural setting is on average 3.7 percent less expensive. This focus on primary care, as opposed to specialty care, saves the Medicare program approximately $2.2 billion each year.

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