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Medicare funding extended for hospitals, ambulance squads

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North country ambulance squads and select hospitals here can breathe a sigh of relief, as critical Medicare funding has been extended through April 1.

The measure will avoid ambulance squads having their Medicare reimbursement cut by 2 or 3 percent, while area hospitals as part of the Low-Volume Hospital Program will receive extra funding because they are located more than 15 miles from another comparable hospital and have fewer than 1,600 Medicare discharges per year.

“The low-volume funds are critical to our facility,” said Eric R. Burch, Lewis County General Hospital chief executive officer. “Not only will this legislation extend the low-volume Medicare program funding from expiring, but it will ensure patients with a variety of needs continue to receive the best care possible.”

He said he appreciates the efforts of U.S. Sen Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, for advocating for Northern New York hospitals. According to a recent news release, Mr. Schumer pushed for bills on both the ambulance and hospital programs to be included in the Sustainable Growth Rate legislation. A three-month extension of the legislation, and other health programs, was attached to the budget agreement, according to the release.

Calls seeking comment to other north country hospitals were not immediately returned.

Funding for the low-volume hospital program was set to expire Sept. 30, and ambulance providers’ payments were set to expire Dec. 31.

“With this stop-gap funding in place, I can now fight for long-term funding for these life-saving programs so that upstate New York residents can receive top-notch health and emergency care, and so that our hospitals and ambulance providers are fairly compensated for their work,” Mr. Schumer said in the release.

The senator has been fighting for such funding for the past couple of years. In May 2012, he introduced legislation with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to extend the low-volume hospital program for one year. Back then, local hospitals faced losing $3.6 million. The extension will provide a fraction of that.

The legislation then, and now, included an extension of the Medicare-Dependent Hospital Program, for which no hospital here qualifies.

Meanwhile, ambulance squads were set to lose a total $1.37 million in Medicare reimbursement through 2018 if the federal government didn’t take action on an expiring provision.

Mr. Schumer said he will continue to fight for all programs.

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