A federal proposal to change the classifications of some rural hospitals would have a direct impact on Abilene Memorial Hospital.
“I am not going to lose sleep over it at this point,” said Mark Miller, Memorial Health System chief operating officer. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t take it seriously. I think it points to future challenges.”
News was published Sunday that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed changing how critical access hospitals are established. The change would require a hospital to be 35 miles from another hospital to be a critical access facility.
As governor, Kathleen Sebelius gave the Abilene hospital its critical access status. Sebelius is currently the HHS secretary.
Miller said there are 1,320 critical access hospitals in the U.S. and of those 846 could potentially lose that status, 72 of them are in Kansas, including the Abilene hospital.
Could Abilene Memorial Hospital survive?
“Yes, I believe we would. But we would be one of the few that could make it without this status,” Miller said. “It would literally cripple rural health care across the United States. Certainly, Kansas would be no exception.”
Miller said the recommendation by the Officer of Inspector General (OIG) at HHS which would save an estimated $1.1 billion is unlikely to go through.
“Again, the likely consequence would be the closing of many, many hospitals in the United States with no plan about how people would go about getting their health care. In some cases that means people are going to drive farther. But that isn’t always that simple.
“What about emergency rooms and emergency care?” Miller said.
He said there could be some “comprise but I am pretty confident that this proposal by OIG will not go forward as it is. It is just too drastic of a measure.”
Memorial Health System recently built a new hospital and is still in Phase 2 of converting the old facility into offices for doctors and staff.
The City of Abilene also issued $18 million in public building commission bonds which MHS could use for that $24 million project. Miller said that the critical access status played a big part in paying for the new hospital and the reconstruction.
“We are viable,” Miller added. “That is not to say that we would not have to take drastic measures to keep our doors open. But I have confidence that we can do that.
“It would be very shortsighted for this to go through,” he added. “One has to wonder, if health care is so crucial to rural America, why is it such a target?”
How much a hospital is paid through Medicare differs at critical access hospitals, which is 46 percent of Memorial Health Systems overall business. Instead of cost-based reimbursement the hospital is paid by a fee schedule by Medicare.
“It does not change the Medicare payments, it just changes the methodology by which we are paid,” Millers said.
“That would make our job that much tougher,” he said. “There are many things that we can do to make this work.”
At the hospital dedication ceremony, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said that emergency services are so important, particularly for people on I-70.
“This is also very important for people who live in Dickinson County,” he said. “What I tried to indicate in my remarks, in the absence of quality health care here, Abilene would not be the community that it is. It would begin to deteriorate as people would decide they couldn’t move here or move away.”
Moran is also the ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee for HHS.