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Wicker: Mississippi Hospitals Play a Key Role in Improving Rural Health

images-2Mississippians understand the importance of rural hospitals and the critical services they provide. Sixty-five of our 82 counties are rural, and most of the state is classified as “medically underserved,” according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
In many ways, improved patient care and health-care access depend on the support available to rural hospitals. Without these providers, residents would be forced to drive to larger health systems for quality care and communities could miss out on the economic benefits associated with health-care investment. Hospitals are the largest employer in many rural areas.
Proposals by the Obama Administration, including the President’s health-care law, threaten the ability of rural hospitals to serve vulnerable populations in our state and across the country. To combat these threats, I am supporting a number of legislative efforts to address the challenges faced by hospitals, providers, and patients throughout Mississippi.
Wicker Introduces ‘DSH Reduction Relief Act’
One example of Obamacare’s harmful impact on Mississippi providers is its drastic cuts to the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) programs for Medicaid and Medicare, which help hospitals cover the heavy cost of providing uncompensated care. Because Obamacare will leave millions uninsured, I have introduced the “DSH Reduction Relief Act” to delay DSH cuts until reforms actually produce expanded health coverage as promised. Hospitals that provide critical care and the patients they serve should not be penalized for the health-care law’s shortcomings.
Bipartisan Resolution Recognizes Critical Access Hospitals
The Obama Administration has also called for substantial cuts to unique health-care providers like Critical Access Hospitals (CAH), which are rural primary care facilities. I have repeatedly opposed the Administration’s attempts to make arbitrary changes to CAH criteria and reimbursements, which would affect the 32 CAHs in Mississippi. Rather than a one-size-fits-all bureaucratic solution, changes should be based on facts and the real needs of communities.
Support for CAHs extends to both political parties. Last year, I cosponsored a resolution with Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) highlighting the importance of rural hospitals. It specifically acknowledged the significant role of CAHs.
Government Overreach in Auditing
Funding cuts and federal mandates are not the only challenges facing Mississippi’s health-care providers. They also must accommodate often-onerous and unnecessary audits from third-party auditors known as Recovery Audit Contractors. Although Medicare fraud is a serious issue, there is little oversight of these auditors, and their practices are not as transparent as they should be. Furthermore, auditors are not penalized when a hospital’s appeal is upheld, as it is for approximately 70 percent of inpatient cases. The “Medicare Audit Improvement Act,” which I have cosponsored, would reform the audit process and ensure that hospital resources are not wasted either on fraud or on redundant government intrusion.
Rural health care is hardly an issue isolated to Mississippi. In fact, more than 20 percent of Americans live in a rural area. Undue burdens that force these facilities to limit health-care options, or force them to close altogether, not only compromises patients’ access to timely care, they also put local economies at risk. Rural hospitals have diverse needs that federal policy must not overlook. I will continue to champion efforts to strengthen the ability of Mississippi’s health-care providers to provide quality care and to remain an integral part of our communities’ well-being. Roger-Wicker12–Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker is a former President of the Ole Miss Associated Student Body.

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