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PRESS RELEASE: Walden to Meet with Administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to Discuss Rural Health Care Priorities

6/21/04 Walden advances rural health care issues as Co-Chairman of House Rural Health Care Coalition

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), who serves as the Republican Co-Chairman of the House Rural Health Care Coalition (RHCC), will meet tomorrow with Dr. Mark McClellan, the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), to discuss rural health care issues.  CMS is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The meeting will take place to allow Walden and other RHCC members to communicate congressional rural health care priorities with McClellan. 

"Access to health care services is one of the greatest challenges facing residents of rural communities in Oregon and across the United States," said Walden.  "As the representative of the rural areas of central, southern and eastern Oregon, I'm committed to strengthening rural Oregon's health care infrastructure by continuing to address Medicare payment policies to ensure that rural health care providers are reimbursed fairly.  CMS has tremendous influence in determining the way in which health care is delivered in rural areas, which is why my colleagues and I who represent rural areas are focusing on continuing the effective working relationship we've established.  Periodic meetings such as this help solidify this important relationship."

Among the issues slated for discussion during tomorrow's meeting are:

-- Rural ambulance payment rate adjustments under the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA).  The reforms contained in the MMA include increases to the base rate for service provided in rural areas, add-on payments for trips longer than 50 miles and a blended regional fee schedule to replace the one-size-fits-all national rate.  In rural Oregon ambulance providers are reimbursed approximately $200 less than the actual cost associated with transporting Medicare beneficiaries, who make up roughly 60% of their annual load.  While these adjustments are scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2004 under the MMA, ambulance providers are concerned that the relief will be delayed because CMS has not yet released the updated ambulance fee schedule and fiscal intermediaries may not have time to implement the payment adjustments by July 1.  

-- Continued investments in Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs).  Most hospitals in rural Oregon are classified as CAHs, which denote hospitals with 25 beds or less that are located more than 30 miles from another hospital.  Without the CAH designation, rural communities would have lost access to inpatient hospital services years ago.  Walden will focus on CAHs to ensure that adequate reimbursement rates are provided to support these vital facilities.

-- Maintaining investments in home health care agencies.  During last year's Energy and Commerce Committee mark-up of the MMA, Walden's amendment to provide rural home health providers with a 5% "add-on" payment for one year was adopted.   This add-on payment is needed to compensate rural home health providers for the higher cost associated with serving beneficiaries that are geographically dispersed.  Walden will ask Dr. McClellan to focus on a long-term solution that will ensure adequate reimbursements for home health care agencies following the expiration of the 5% add-on payment. 

The House Rural Health Care Coalition is a bipartisan coalition of 182 Members of Congress that is committed to advancing rural priorities in the shaping of health care policy.  The Democratic Co-Chairman of the RHCC is Congressman Earl Pomeroy (D-ND).

Congressman Walden represents the Second District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon.  He is a Deputy Whip and a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Resources.  Walden was recently named Chairman of the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.

 

 

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