EDITORIAL: Don’t overlook rural hospitals in health-care fix | Opinion

Make no mistake about it, we’re proud of Arizona District 2 Congresswoman Martha McSally’s involvement in the Problem Solvers Caucus.

She’s one of just 43 U.S. representatives who have been meeting for several weeks trying to find a bipartisan solution to the health care crisis. Last week, the group released a five-point plan aimed at fixing what’s wrong with the insurance markets offered through the Affordable Care Act. Considering there are 435 members of the House of Representatives, McSally’s participation in this group should give local constituents confidence that her fellow members of Congress recognize her talents and appreciate her input.

The bipartisan plan was a bit of good news in an otherwise depressing string of outcomes from Washington, where politicians have stalemated repeal and replace efforts, threatening the elimination of health care coverage for millions.

It’s an accepted fact that what will eventually emerge from Congress will not satisfy everyone or solve every problem. First Democrats, now Republicans, have learned that without a bipartisan solution, there is no solution. Fixing what ails Obamacare and replacing it with a better program will require exactly the kind of effort that McSally is now a part of, with politicians from both parties making compromises to get some of what they want, but not all of what they want.

With that said, an immediate concern is finding funds to cover the costs incurred by rural hospitals that provided uncompensated care.

Before the ACA went into effect in Arizona, many rural hospitals were facing serious financial challenges. Neither Medicare or Medicaid, through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, reimburse hospitals at the full costs incurred in the treatment of a patient. Hospitals were reimbursed at about 70 percent of their costs leaving the challenge of obtaining the additional 30 percent from charges to patients who could afford to pay more — a practice called cost-shifting.

This led to massive losses for rural hospitals in 2011 and 2012, before the benefits of the individual mandate and ACA were realized. The American Hospital Association reported that in fiscal year 2011 the total uncompensated care for America’s hospitals was $41.1 billion. In Arizona, uncompensated care totaled $484 million in 2011. In Sierra Vista, fiscal year 2011 recorded almost $2.6 million in uncompensated care costs, while in fiscal year 2012 the figure increased to $2,854,000…a total of $5.4 million in just two years.

Having a seat at the table were the details of this bipartisan solution to our health care crisis are being decided represents a great opportunity for Arizona, and District 2 in particular.

Let’s hope McSally remembers the financial welfare of our rural hospitals and either finds another source to pay for uncompensated care, or otherwise addresses this very real concern.

This originally was published in the Sierra Vista Herald.

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