Lott: Act will help rural hospitals

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 19, 1999

Congress’ Balanced Budget Refinement Act will provide $17 billion over 10 years in relief for financially strapped hospitals nationwide, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Friday.

Lott, R-Miss., said the act will offset cutbacks made by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

&uot;Rural hospitals have suffered from HCFA’s actions,&uot; he said.

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The act will extend some Medicare-dependent programs.

&uot;It will help seniors with out-of-pocket costs and home health care,&uot; Lott noted. A 15-percent reduction in Medicare reimbursements to home health has been pushed back by a year under the new legislation.

&uot;It won’t solve all our problems or answer all needs,&uot; Lott said, but it will address some of the most critical needs while combating an &uot;unfettered draw on Medicare funds.&uot;

The Balanced Budget Refinement Act is only the beginning for for adjusting healthcare funding, Lott said. &uot;Some reform and some tightening up&uot; will still have to be done, he said.

&uot;It’s a good first step,&uot; said Brent Alexander, vice president for government relations at the Mississippi Hospital Association.

Figures from the Mississippi Hospital Association estimate that the Balanced Budget Act is expected to cut $200 billion in Medicare payments to hospitals.

&uot;More action is obviously needed,&uot; Alexander said. &uot;We welcome the support of the Mississippi delegation.&uot;

Lott said he had not &uot;totaled up all the figures on how it will affect Mississippi,&uot; but added there was definitely more work ahead for Congress.

&uot;There will have to be further reform in a payment reimbursement system for home health care, but we will work through that,&uot; he said.

Medicare is projected to be solvent for 10 or 12 years, Lott said, requiring additional reforms.

&uot;We’re going to be dealing with Medicare over the next several years, but it has to be done in a way that doesn’t bankrupt the system,&uot; he said.

As work on the nation’s budget was winding up Friday, Lott said he was pleased to see Congress arrive at a balanced budget.

&uot;For the second year in a row, we balanced the budget,&uot; Lott said. &uot;We have not raised taxes and achieved some small tax cuts.&uot;

Lott said Republicans were pleased to achieve a .38 percent across the board cut to federal programs – even though the initial goal was 1 percent.

&uot;We set a precedent to consider across the board cuts to get departments to root out fraud and overpayments,&uot; Lott said. &uot;We significantly raised military pay, pensions — added an overall increase in money for defense.&uot;

Lott said he spoke with President Clinton Friday morning on a number of issues the senator sees as groundwork for the next legislative session.

Lott said he and Clinton discussed world trade, China, the need for reform in how sanctions are applied and the process to relieve those sanctions, federal aviation, a bill dealing with satellite service and a juvenile justice bill.

The next session could prove difficult in accomplishing a full legislative agenda, he said.

&uot;Every congressman is up (for re-election) and a third of the Senate is up (for re-election),&uot; Lott said. &uot;It’s going to be tough to get a lot of new initiatives considered.&uot;

Lott also said he sides with Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., in supporting a biennial budget process for Congress.

Thompson reports that approximately $19 billion in federal dollars are wasted each year in overpayments through federal programs.

&uot;The budget and appropriations process is too big and cumbersome — it’s a broken system,&uot; Lott said.

&uot;We’ll finish final appropriations in the wee hours of the morning Saturday. In three months, we’ll be back at it again.&uot;

Under Thompson’s proposal, Congress would budget for a two-year period.