RANSON, W.Va. — An Eastern Panhandle hospital complex says it could lose $300,000 under new Medicare reimbursement rules, and similar small, rural facilities across West Virginia could lose a total $5.5 million a year.
The change also could be retroactive to 2009, making those losses even larger, said Christopher Knight, vice president of finance for West Virginia University Hospitals East-Jefferson Memorial Hospital.
Eighteen critical access hospitals in West Virginia are affected, he said Friday.
Historically, Medicare considered state provider taxes reimbursable, and Knight has asked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to re-evaluate a recent change and keep it that way.
West Virginia created a provider tax in 1993 to support state funding for Medicaid. Knight said the change effectively punishes hospitals for treating Medicare patients.
The American Hospital Association and the West Virginia Hospital Association are also concerned. They're working with West Virginia's congressional delegation on the issue.
A House bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would ensure that critical access hospitals continue to be reimbursed for provider taxes they pay their states.
The Critical Access Hospital Program was created in 1997 through the Balanced Budget Act to recognize small, rural hospitals as essential providers to rural residents. Each must have 25 or fewer inpatient beds and offer 24-hour emergency care.
Knight said as much as 70 percent of West Virginia CAH patients are on Medicare and Medicaid.
"When you're a small hospital with limited cash flow, you don't have a lot of ability to absorb the kinds of cuts resulting from this policy," Knight said.
The new rules threaten to close some small facilities, he said, "or at a minimum, diminish patient access to essential health care in the most rural areas."