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Hospital Medicare Funds Get Bipartisan Push

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, December 12, 2012

When last we looked in on the status of federal funding for Medicare-dependent and low-volume rural hospitals, a pre-election Congress was distracted and dithering before the Oct. 1 deadline.

Now, more than two months later, we can report that a post-election lame duck Congress remains distracted and dithering with no budget compromise in sight as the federal government stumbles toward the so-called "fiscal cliff."

"The funding expired on Oct. 1 and we are very concerned about it. We are desperately hoping it will be included in whatever package, if there is a package, that is put together at the end of the year," says Maggie Elehwany, government affairs and policy vice president for the National Rural Health Association.

"We are having lobbying advocacy efforts, grassroots efforts on a daily basis hitting Capitol Hill. We think that these Medicare-dependent hospitals are starting to feel the brunt but obviously it's going to hit harder next year. On top of that we have sequestration hitting on Jan. 2. So, it is a very tough situation."

Even though the enhanced funding for the 212 Medicare-dependent hospitals and about 650 low-volume hospitals expired when the new federal budget year began on Oct. 1, hope remains.

A bipartisan group of 31 Senators sent a letter this month to the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, and ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-UT, urging them to include "The Rural Hospital Access Act of 2012" (S. 2620) in the pending Medicare physician payment legislation. The bill, S. 2620, is cosponsored by 26 Senators from both parties.

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