Grassley seeks Medicare freeze
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has added provisions to the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill that would freeze Medicare physician payments at 2002 levels through September and equalize base rates for rural and small and large urban hospitals. Medicare's physician rates are scheduled for a 4.4% reduction March 1, delayed from the previous Jan. 1 implementation date. Freezing the rates through September would cost $800 million, while equalizing hospital base rates would cost about $300 million, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates cited by Grassley. Congress has yet to approve 2003 appropriations.
Medicaid limits bashed
Triggering outrage from Democrats in Congress, the Bush administration has ruled that HMOs can restrict coverage of emergency services to Medicaid beneficiaries. The new policy, disclosed in a Dec. 20 letter to state Medicaid directors, appears to roll back standards established in a 1997 law and in rules issued by the Clinton administration in January 2001 and by the Bush administration itself in June 2002. The 1997 law allowed states to enroll Medicaid patients in HMOs, but required that the plans include certain patient safeguards. In particular, Congress stipulated that HMOs provide coverage for Medicaid patients in any situation that a "prudent layperson" would consider an emergency. But now the administration has allowed states to place limits on such services "to facilitate more appropriate use of preventive care and primary care."
State OKs Phenix City hospital
Ameris Health Systems, Nashville, has won Alabama's approval to build a 70-bed hospital in Phenix City. The new hospital, expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million, will replace 114-bed Phenix Regional Hospital, a money-losing facility that was shut down last March by parent Columbus (Ga.) Regional Healthcare System. Ameris, a for-profit company that owns 29-bed Smith Northview Hospital, Valdosta, Ga., and manages four other hospitals, is expected to break ground within six months.