Isakson, Perdue Applaud Proposed Rule to Aid Rural Hospitals by President

Friday, April 26th, 2019

U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and David Perdue, R-Ga., today applauded a move by the Trump administration to help ensure that rural hospitals are fairly reimbursed for their services under the Medicare program after the senators joined colleagues in urging the administration to make this critical change. The administration issued a proposed rule this week that would provide higher payments to hospitals in lower-income rural areas, helping to keep these hospitals open for patients and their communities.

In March, Isakson and Perdue sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma requesting the agency update Medicare payment policies and increase the disproportionately low Medicare reimbursement payments to hospitals in underserved and economically struggling regions. 

“We’ve been working to correct this reimbursement issue for years, including through legislative solutions. Too many Georgia hospitals have been forced to close in recent years, and it appears that this rule change is consistent with our efforts,” said Isakson, a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, which oversees Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “If so, this is a huge victory for Georgians and it will help ensure patients have continued access to emergency and medically necessary care. I’m grateful to the administration for its efforts to improve access to health care in rural and underserved areas, and I look forward to studying this rule in the days ahead.” 

“Health care providers should be focused on patient care, not Washington bureaucracy,” said Perdue. “Unfortunately, over the last 30 years, rules and regulations have put rural hospitals at a disadvantage. Improving the wage index will help protect rural hospitals in Georgia from devastating reductions in Medicare payments and ensure the long-term viability of our health care network. This is an important step toward leveling the playing field, and Senator Isakson deserves a great deal of credit for his efforts on this issue.”

Isakson previously introduced the Fair Medicare Hospital Payments Act in the 114th and 115th sessions of Congress to correct the flawed reimbursement formula. 

The editorial board of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer weighed in to support a change to the rule in 2016, citing hospital administrators at Tift Regional Health System based in Tifton, Ga., and Phoebe Putney Health System based in Albany, Ga., where health care systems that serve as safety nets have frequently become strained when other area hospitals close. The board wrote, “One sure way make to a rural health crisis self-perpetuating is a built-in reason for medical professionals not to go where they’re needed most.”

Under the new proposal, the wage index of low wage index hospitals would be increased after changes to the rural payment calculation. Hospitals with a wage index below the 25th percentile would see an increase in reimbursement rates. The new rule is scheduled to be implemented in six months.

Since 2010, seven Georgia hospitals have closed that would have benefitted from this rule change and Isakson’s legislation.

In addition to Isakson and Perdue, the March 2019 letter was sent by Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala.