2013-02-21 / Top News

Action urged by Friday

BCH, HMC services at risk with looming sequester

Bath, Highland residents urged to write Congress

MONTEREY — The head of Highland Medical Center is urging residents to contact U.S. Senators Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and Rep. Bob Goodlatte to avert dire consequences for local health care access.

Unless Congress develops another plan, a sequester goes into effect March 1, which could mean that 900,000 health center patients across the nation might lose access to care, said Tom Kurtz, CEO of Highland Medical Center. He explained the sequester is an arbitrary, across-the-board cut to all programs in government including not only health care but defense, education, and others

The Virginia Rural Health Association sent a delegation of six people to Capitol Hill during the recent National Rural Health Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Included in the delegation was Kurtz and five others who visited 12 Congressional offices to urge delaying or replacing the sequester, which would  result in automatic 2 percent cut in federal funding to health care facilities. Delegates put particular emphasis on hospitals and health centers in Virginia.

Kurtz represented Bath Community Hospital at the request of Debbie Lipes, CEO of the Critical Access Hospital in Hot Springs.

Offices visited included Kaine, Warner and Goodlatte.

Also visited were Representatives and  their staffs, including: Robert Wittman, District 1; Scott Rigell, District 2; Bobbi Scott, District 3; Randy Forbes, District 4; Robert Hurt, District 5; Eric Cantor, District 7; James Moran, District 8; Morgan Griffith, District 9; and Gerry Connolly, District 11.

“If Congress does not act to delay or replace the sequester by March 1, then Community Health Centers including ours face a potential loss of $120 million in funding,” Kurtz said. “That translates to approximately 900,000 fewer patients served, including some current patients and potential new patients,” he said.

Kurtz noted virtually all existing health centers should expect to see some impact on their federal health center support if the sequester were to go through.

In addition, the delegation advocated to protect Medicare-Dependent, small rural hospitals and Low-Volume Hospitals as well as Sole Community Hospitals — providers mainly in rural America.

Also, the VRHA group praised U.S. Senators Moran (R-Kansas) and Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) who introduced a resolution in the U.S. Senate to recognize key findings, including:

• Access to rural hospital and other rural providers for rural patients is essential to the survival and success of rural communities;

• Preserving and strengthening access to quality health care in rural areas is crucial to the success and prosperity of the nation;

• Strengthening access to care to rural hospitals and other rural providers is cost-effective and improves health outcomes for rural patients.

• Rural health providers afford vital care to patients and are an integral part of the local rural community and are one of the largest employers in rural areas; and

• Rural health providers provide quality care for 20 percent of the population and help preserve communities cherished by rural patients across the nation.

Senate Resolution-26 is a significant recognition for the need to support the rural health care safety net, Kurtz said.

There is the strong likelihood that if the sequester is not diverted, many smaller rural health facilities could be forced to close over time since their bottom lines are generally at a break-even. Funding cuts will most likely push them into a negative, financially.

Kurtz urges citizens in Highland and Bath counties to contact their U.S. Representative and Senators in Washington as soon as possible to stop or delay the sequester, or even if it goes into effect as was predicted by many of those he visited, to develop another, more feasible, plan quickly.

For information, contact Kurtz at (540) 468-3304.

The following contact information is for writing the local Congressional delegation:

• Rep. Bob Goodlatte: goodlatte.house.gov

• The Hon. Tim Kaine: kaine.senate.gov

• The Hon. Mark Warner: warner.senate.gov

Without Congressional action, the federal cuts go into effect on Friday this week.

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