We are disturbed by the misleading article "Rural-relief bills win partial AHA backing" (June 28, p. 8), which says the American Hospital Association is embracing only select provisions of rural Medicare-relief measures in the House and Senate.
First, we could not be more pleased with the AHA's campaign to get all hospitals relief from the devastation of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. We've never seen a better-coordinated effort to get Washington to hear our message. Legislators are beginning to understand that Medicare reductions are hurting patients. They are looking to use some of the budget surplus to finance much-needed budget law relief for hospitals.
Second, we are pleased that the AHA's agenda is broad enough to capture the needs of institutions such as rural hospitals. In this regard, we and the AHA support comprehensive legislation that would address rural hospitals' needs.
Our concerns stem from the fact that the two rural-relief bills play the old "budget neutral" game of financing Medicare services. The budget law had a negative impact on all providers, and we need to call on Congress for more funding, not budget-neutral corrections.
Yet we are grateful for these bills. They validate the AHA's efforts to focus congressional attention on hospitals' urgent need for relief. We also recognize that every provision in these two bills may not be enacted this year. That's why we are working with the AHA to identify provisions that would provide the maximum relief for rural hospitals.
Your article chose to focus on one provision from this list (the "Medicare-dependent, small, rural" provision, which we and the AHA strongly support), leaving the reader with the impression that the AHA is opposed to this (it isn't) and other provisions. The AHA is greatly committed to more than 20 specific initiatives (including the "Medicare-dependent, small, rural" proposal) to provide real relief for rural hospitals.
Chief executive officer
Unicoi County Memorial Hospital
West Virginia Hospital Association
Kansas Hospital Association