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Grande Ronde Hospital President and CEO Jim Mattes said the proposal to reduce Medicare payments to 15 rural Oregon hospitals will not impact the hospital, which does have a critical access designation. (Phil Bullock/The Observer)
PENDLETON — A federal budget-cutting proposal threatens to reduce Medicare payments to 15 rural Oregon hospitals. Hospital and state officials say it could threaten their futures.
A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, issued last month, targets “critical access hospitals” that receive more Medicaid dollars because of the designation. The hospitals need to be a certain distance, 15 to 35 miles, from another hospital to be considered a critical access hospital, but there has long been an exception carved out for those that aren’t remote enough, mileage-wise, but fit the criteria in other ways.
Now, that exception could end.
Oregon has 25 of the critical access hospitals. Fifteen are within 15 to 35 miles of another hospital, which is why their payments are threatened.
Until 2006, they were exempted from a limit on hospitals not considered sufficiently remote for the higher payments.
Now, a recommendation from the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would end that exception.
It would affect about 850 hospitals nationally.
Grande Ronde Hospital President and CEO Jim Mattes said the proposal will not impact the hospital, which does have a critical access designation.
“The critical access hospital designation for Grande Ronde Hospital is a vital source of funding for speciality service that otherwise would not be accessible in the community,” he said. “Without our critical access hospital designation many patients would be forced to drive long distances over a mountain pass to receive a speciality care that is presently available in our community.”
Grande Ronde Hospital is 45 miles from Saint Alphonsus in Baker City, its closest neighbor.
Robert Duehmig, with the Office of Rural Health, said, “It’s an attempt to save money.”
The federal government is asking to change the rules, Duehmig said, “and it could have an impact on hospitals if it happens.”
It’s unclear whether the proposal will gain any momentum in Congress.
“But it’s important for folks to talk to their members of Congress,” Duehmig said.
The Bend Bulletin and Observer reporter Kelly Ducote contributed to this report.