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North country hospitals could lose $3.6 million in Medicare funds

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North country hospitals face losing $3.6 million in Medicare program funds, if the Low-Volume Hospital Program is not extended.

The biggest hit will be at Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville, as it stands to lose $718,500. Adirondack Medical Center, Saranac Lake, faces a $708,200 loss, while Carthage Area Hospital faces a $575,400 loss and Alice Hyde Medical Center, Malone, could lose $539,600. E.J. Noble Hospital, Gouverneur, would lose $524,300, and Massena Memorial Hospital would lose $315,800. Both Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg, and Canton-Potsdam Hospital, Potsdam, would lose $95,000.

Lewis County General Hospital Chief Financial Officer Richard T. Lang said an extension of the Low-Volume Hospital Program funding is extremely critical as it is needed to continue to meet the needs of Lewis County General’s patient population.

“If these funds did not exist, the hospital would have to look for additional funding or adjust spending capital or programs,” he said. “The low-volume program has provided additional funding to ensure that we can continue to offer our patients access to high quality care.”

Of the approximately 2,000 patients the hospital saw last year, 760, or about 38 percent, were Medicare patients.

The Low-Volume Hospital Program affects 24 hospitals across the state, and provides Medicare support to hospitals that do not have a high volume of patients. Funding for that program is set to expire Sept. 30, unless recently introduced bipartisan legislation extends that program for an additional year.

According to a news release issued by U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s office, Mr. Schumer and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced legislation Tuesday that would extend both the Low-Volume Hospital Program and the Medicare-Dependent Hospital Program for one year. No hospitals in the region count on the latter program.

The news release states that a low-volume hospital is more than 15 road miles from another comparable hospital and has fewer than 1,600 Medicare discharges a year.

In the news release, Mr. Schumer said continued existence of the Medicare programs “is critical to the financial stability of hospitals in the north country, and will help enhance the quality of life in our rural communities.”

At Carthage Area Hospital, interim Chief Financial Officer Robert Bloom said Mr. Schumer’s office estimated the hospital would lose $575,400, but it actually stands to lose about $770,000 over a two-year period If the program is not extended.

“It’d just be an additional gap we’d try to find a way to cover,” Mr. Bloom said.

E. J. Noble Administrator Charles P. Conole said he hopes the legislation passes because a $524,300 loss to the hospital would be devastating.

“We walk a fine line, financially,” he said Wednesday. “If they took $500,000 away from us, that’d be a tough issue to overcome.”

Additional money is essential for the hospital’s operation, he said, especially since it had about 1,300 Medicare discharges in 2011.

Massena Memorial Hospital CEO Charles F. Fahd II said the hospital expected another hit to the Medicare program so it did not budget to receive the Low Volume Hospital Program funds — about $79,000 — for the last quarter of this year. Those funds were also not budgeted for 2013.

“It appears they’re trying to cut Medicare/Medicaid programs all the time,” he said Wednesday. “We’re always concerned about regulations to remain a qualified hospital.”

Massena Memorial averages about 100 Medicare discharges per month, he said.

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