Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boucher: Bill would hurt rural hospitals

health insurance

U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, who voted against health care reform legislation on Saturday, said concerns about the legislation’s effects on rural hospitals were behind his vote.

Boucher represents the state’s 9th District, which includes Patrick County and part of Henry County. He was one of two Democratic congressmen from Virginia to break with their party and oppose the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

Boucher said Monday that he agrees that reform is needed, but he doesn’t think the bill did enough “to ensure that Southwest Virginia residents continue to have access to the high quality health care services now delivered locally.”

Boucher cited the continuing existence of disparities between Medicare reimbursements for rural and urban areas as a problem with the bill.

“Rural areas have traditionally received less under Medicare than urban areas, and while the bill makes some improvements in this regard, I would like to see more done to increase the payments to rural health care providers,” he said in a news release. “Higher Medicare reimbursements would enable the attraction of more doctors to serve our medically underserved region.”

Boucher also cited several concerns he has about the government-run insurance plan included in the bill, which often is called the “public option.” That plan could place the survival of the region’s hospitals at risk, he said.

Hospitals in the district lose money on each Medicare or Medicaid patient they treat, Boucher said, because both programs reimburse hospitals at rates below the costs of the care.

“The financial viability of our hospitals comes from the payments they receive from privately insured patients,” Boucher said. “A government operated health insurance plan competing with private insurance will attract patients who are privately insured today, with the result that the hospitals would treat less privately insured patients and lose the critical revenues that are essential to their survival.”

The government health care plan authorized by the legislation would use reimbursement rates similar to Medicare rates, causing hospitals to lose money on each patient with government insurance, Boucher said.

He pointed out that many of the district’s hospitals, most of which are nonprofit, “are financially stressed in normal times.” Two, including one in Patrick County, have faced closure in recent years for financial reasons.

“The government owned insurance plan as outlined in the House bill could push many more over the edge,” he said. “I cannot support legislation that could lead to that result.”

Calling Saturday’s vote “but a first step in a long legislative process,” Boucher said he hopes his concerns will be addressed in the future. Bipartisan participation will be needed, he said, adding that Democrats and Republicans should work together to write the legislation, which “did not happen as the House bill was constructed.”

He indicated that if his concerns are addressed, he might support reform in the future.

“Reform is needed, and I hope to support the final passage of legislation that emerges from a House-Senate conference that creates affordable access to health care for all Americans and does so in a way that enables the continued delivery of the excellent care now offered in our region,” Boucher said.