Dayton introduces bill to help rural health care
ST. PAUL -- Federal Medicare cuts could kill rural Minnesotans, Sen. Mark Dayton says. "These are life and death matters that we are addressing here ..." the Minnesota Democrat said Wednesday.
ST. PAUL -- Federal Medicare cuts could kill rural Minnesotans, Sen. Mark Dayton says.
"These are life and death matters that we are addressing here ..." the Minnesota Democrat said Wednesday. "Congress is going to have to face up to them or people are literally going to lose their lives."
Dayton introduced bills Wednesday that he said would give rural Minnesota hospitals and ambulance services equity with urban health-care facilities.
Twenty five rural Minnesota hospitals have closed since 1987 and Dayton said those remaining lose $900 million a year due to Medicare cuts Congress approved in 1997.
"Eighty-eight percent of Minnesota hospitals lost money serving patients during 2001 and it was worse during 2002," said John Frobenius, former St. Cloud Hospital president and advisor to Dayton on the Medicare situation.
Medicare cuts to ambulance service started last year and just now are being felt.
"In many rural communities and their surrounding areas, the only health-care provider is their ambulance service," said Gary Windgrove of Gold Cross Ambulance Service, which serves many Minnesota communities.
Dayton predicted many rural ambulance services will go out of business because of the Medicare cuts.
The ambulance cuts are being phased in through 2006, when they will receive half the Medicare payments they did last year.
The cuts hit rural Minnesota harder than urban areas because its health-care providers serve a much higher percentage of older people who rely on Medicare as their health insurance.
Dayton's hospital bill would increase Medicare reimbursement rates for rural hospitals, bringing them closer to the national average.
For ambulance services, Dayton would require Medicare to cover the costs of providing the service.
Dayton would not predict what chances his bills have of passing, although both congressional chambers and the White House are controlled by Republicans who generally have not supported the Dayton approach.
The Bush administration plans Medicare reform, but the White House has not announced what it would do about rural health care.
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