Rural medicine to benefit from new Medicare package

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(Host) Vermont doctors and hospitals say the new Medicare bill passed by Congress last week will help strengthen health care services in the state.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Much of the attention on the sweeping new Medicare bill focused on the controversial prescription drug benefits. But the bill also increases Medicare reimbursements for rural doctors and hospitals, which have historically been lower than payments to their urban counterparts. Bea Grause is president of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

(Grause) “This bill went a long way toward breaking that gap between the rurals and the urbans and helping our overall position and from our perspective it creates a more secure rural system.”

(Zind) Grause says Vermont ranks 47th in the nation in terms of overall Medicare reimbursements to hospitals because all but one of Vermont’s hospitals is classified as rural. She says the new law will increase payments to Vermont hospitals for in-patient services by about $41 million over 10 years.

Medicare accounts for more than 40% of in patient care in Vermont hospitals. Because of a number of variables, Grause says the amount each hospital will receive in reimbursements will vary widely. Grause says even Fletcher Allen Health Care, which is not considered a rural hospital, will benefit from the new Medicare bill. She says the increased revenue will help Vermont hospitals compete for professional staff in the face of a nationwide personnel shortage.

Doctors will also benefit from the new bill, which eliminates cuts in reimbursements that were to take effect over the next two years. Paul Harrington of the Vermont Medical Society says the cuts would have especially hurt the 60% of Vermont’s doctors who don’t work for hospitals.

(Harrington) “For those who are employed by hospitals the effect of these cuts would have been primarily borne by the hospital, as opposed to directly by the physicians. Physicians who are still self employed, have their own practices were particularly vulnerable to these projected cuts.”

(Zind) Harrington says the new Medicare bill significantly also reduces the gap between reimbursement rates for rural and urban doctors. He says the higher payments will allow Vermont to attract new physicians.

Harrington says the bill’s prescription drug benefits will give Vermont seniors greater access to prescription drugs. He says Vermont physicians have been concerned that Medicare beneficiaries who couldn’t afford drugs haven’t been able to fill their prescriptions.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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