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Cramer: Medicare changes will benefit seniors

By Staff
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
A sweeping plan to revamp the Medicare system is earning praise from an area Congressman, who said he feels the plan, while not perfect, is a good start.
"I am pleased the U.S. House of Representatives passed the first-ever comprehensive reform of the Medicare system," Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Alabama, said. "This bill provides a prescription drug benefit through Medicare to seniors for the first time in history. Millions of Americans will gain relief from their prescription drug and physician care costs from this legislation."
The bill was approved last week by the House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate.
Under the terms of the bill, prescription drug benefits for 40 million elderly and disabled Americans would be offered starting in 2006. The prescription drug coverage would cost $35 a month and have a $250 deductible. After the deductible, coverage would pay for 75 percent of drug costs up to $2,250.
That still leaves many seniors paying hefty bills for medicine, however. And while not perfect, Cramer said the new bill does at least get the Medicare reform ball rolling.
"This bill is not perfect but it is a good start," he said. "We have waited far too long to enact a prescription drug benefit under Medicare and seniors have paid the price."
If it is approved, senior citizens won't be the only ones benefiting from the reforms. North Alabama doctors and smaller, rural hospitals such as Hartselle Medical Center will also seen benefits.
"This historic bill will result in increased Medicare payments for North Alabama hospitals by correcting a Medicare provision called the wage index that was unfairly punishing Alabama hospitals," Cramer said.
The bill includes higher Medicare payments for North Alabama hospitals by correcting the Medicare wage index. The old wage index reimbursement formula used personnel costs to determine what money the hospital would receive from Medicare. Opponents of the old reimbursement system said this unfairly penalized smaller hospitals because while costs for supplies and equipment are similar nationwide, labor-related costs are different. Because the cost of labor is cheaper, the amount of money the hospitals were reimbursed was less.
"This legislation corrects the disparities that are biased against Alabama hospitals," Cramer said. "Alabama hospitals will gain relief from their prescription drug and physician care costs from this legislation."
The bill has received the endorsement of Hartselle Medical Center, the Rural Hospital Coalition and the Association American Retired Persons.
Physicians could also see an increase in their Medicare payments, an enticement designed to encourage more doctors to accept such patients.
"In 2004, physicians were scheduled to suffer a 4.5 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements," Cramer said. "However, this legislation reverses this cut and instead gives physicians a 1.5 percent increase. This plan makes Medicare more attractive to doctors across North Alabama and it will allow more physicians and other providers and opportunity to continue to provide high quality health care services."