More help sought for rural hospitals

The Rural Community Hospital Assistance Act, introduced in late April by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), could give relief to financially troubled rural hospitals.

The act enhances the Critical Access Hospital program, which provides special Medicare reimbursement for certain rural hospitals with 15 or fewer inpatient beds; helps rural hospitals with 50 or fewer inpatient beds by allowing them to use cost-based reimbursement instead of the prospective payment system; ensures that these hospitals will receive 100% compensation for treating Medicare patients who fail to supply their copay; and provides additional funding for technology and infrastructure needs.

The bill is a companion measure to H.R. 937, introduced by Reps. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jim Turner (D-TX) in February.

For more information, go to www.aha.org.


HCA changes policies to give more financial aid

The Nashville, TN-based hospital chain HCA recently announced plans to change its charitable care policies to provide financial relief to more of its charity patients and give need-based discounts to uninsured patients who receive non-elective care at its hospitals.

The planned changes, which are subject to approval by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, would allow patients receiving non-elective care at an HCA hospital who have income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level to be eligible for charity care, a standard HCA said about 70% of its hospitals already have been using.

HCA also issued a revision of its criteria for filing liens or garnishment of wages of patients who have not paid their hospital bills. The policy prohibits placement of liens on primary homes worth less than $300,000 or garnishment of wages for patients who have a proven inability to pay.

For more information, visit the HCA web site at www.hcahealthcare.com.


HHS funds centers to serve uninsured

Thirty-one new community health centers are to be funded through $16 million in grants recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The centers are expected to provide health care services to an estimated 254,000 people, including many who are uninsured, according to an announcement by HHS.

The grants are part of a five-year Health Centers Initiative by the Bush administration to add 1,200 new or expanded health center sites by 2006. The centers will provide preventive and primary care services to patients regardless of their ability to pay.

For more on the grants, including a list of recipients, go to www.hhs.gov.