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Smith pushing cure for Medicare

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D) met with doctors and other medical workers at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way last week to discuss a bill he recently introduced in Congress to increase Medicare reimbursement.

The proposed legislation, called the MediFair Act, intends to improve the situation of Washington’s senior citizens — who often depend on Medicare to fund their healthcare —by raising reimbursement rates to match those elsewhere in the nation.

Hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers often receive poor state-funded reimbursements for the services they provide to the elderly under Medicare. And because Washington has one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the nation, many insurance companies are avoiding the Medicare program, while hospitals are financially stifled by the inadequate compensation for care.

“It’s still a problematic system,” Smith told the St. Francis employees Aug. 19.

The group at the conference included Joseph Wilczek, chief executive officer of Franciscan Health System, the organization that includes St. Francis, and Dr. Mike Newcomb, senior vice president of medical affairs.

Smith compared the nationwide problem of Americans lacking health insurance with the sinking of the Titanic: “It’s great that a few people have lifeboats. It would be great if everybody did.”

Referring to the unequal Medicare reimbursement rates nationwide and the especially low rate in Washington, Smith said, “We’re all paying the same 2.6 percent out of our check for half the care. How is this fair?”

For example, the rate for Medicare reimbursement in King County is $564 per patient per month. In Staten Island, New York, the rate is $872.

But not everyone believes the state’s Medicare reimbursement rates are a problem. Thomas Scully, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs Medicare and Medicaid, has stated that there is no problem with reimbursement rates in Washington, Smith said.

“I guess rose-colored glasses work for him,” Smith said.

However, other members of Washington’s congressional delegation disagree with Scully and join Smith in supporting the MediFair Act. They include Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Norm Dicks and Jim McDermott.

If Congress approves the act and the president signs it into law, fair reimbursement for senior citizens under Medicare should become a reality, and Washington’s healthcare woes might be alleviated.

One St. Francis employee asked Smith about the the role of preventive care on reducing health insurance rates. Smith said, “I think there should be an adjustment. We should have more incentives. If we took better care of ourselves, we could save some healthcare dollars.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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