The CMS issued a correction to the 2004 wage index used in adjusting hospital Medicare payments for local labor markets. The agency said the correction will result in a lower national average hourly wage rate and higher wage indexes. The new regulation will be published in the Oct. 6 Federal Register. It is effective today. Meanwhile, President Bush signed into law a bill that will equalize the base payment rate for urban and rural hospitals through March 31, 2004. A similar law enacted earlier this year expired yesterday. The law requires HHS to equalize the base rate by Nov. 1 and compensate hospitals for missed payments. Medicare reform bills being reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee would make the policy permanent.
In other Washington news, a group of 57 senators urged the conference committee's leadership to adopt certain home healthcare provisions in the Senate version of Medicare reform. Those include a full-marketbasket update for home health agencies and a 10% add-on payment for rural home health services. In a letter to committee leadership, the group said cuts in home health payments have led to widespread service reductions or closures at home health agencies. -- by Jeff Tieman and Tony Fong