Proposal to Help Rural Hospitals Get Medicaid Funding

Proposal to Help Rural Hospitals Get Medicaid Funding

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- The Legislature's Rural Caucus members say they back a proposal to ensure hospitals in the state's smaller communities are guaranteed a share of new Medicaid funding.

State Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, said his bill (SB 64) is designed to set aside a share of new Medicaid dollars created by the 2003 Medicare act for Utah's rural hospitals or to any hospital with fewer than 150 beds.

"Utah's rural hospitals and small, sole community provider hospitals have historically been underpaid. This bill tries to help solve that problem," said Hickman

To give those hospitals boost, Congress authorized an extra $12.2 million in Medicaid spending for those facilities.

Under the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act that extra Medicaid money -- set aside to help those hospitals treating a significant number of poor or disabled Utah residents -- grows by 16 percent each year for the next five years. That's $1.4 million in additional money this year, $1.63 million on top of that next year, and it grows by slightly larger and larger amounts through 2008.

Under Hickman's bill, that new Medicaid money eventually will be divided 75 percent to the state's ten major hospitals and 25 percent to the smaller facilities.

This is a critically important piece of legislation for us," said Craig Davidson, administrator of Beaver Valley Hospital

Being able to rely on a fixed amount of money every year will help rural hospitals plan for any number of things, including equipment purchases and building improvements, Davidson said

"If they have adequate funds, they can address the critical needs of their patients at the critical time," said Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corinne.

However, Rep. Craig Buttars, R-Lewiston, said he is unsure whether the share would end up as high as 25 percent. "The urban hospitals will have to concede something to the rural hospitals."

Hickman's bill is scheduled to be before a Senate committee this week.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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