TMH sees rise in Medicare business

Hospital losing revenue on Medicare patients

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— Twelve years ago The Memorial Hospital (TMH) was laying off people to stay in the black financially. Today the hospital has gone from merely covering the payroll checks to having millions in the bank and the medical staff has doubled. But not all is perfect.

Twelve years ago Randy Phelps began his duties as administrator of TMH. Despite a solid banking account, Phelps and TMH officials are concerned about Medicare.

"What is critical right now is the aging of the people in the community and the United States," Phelps said. "Due to Medicare, rural health care is pressured to go out of business."

Phelps, along with about 20 other hospital professionals from around the country, traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1997 to lobby for change in the Medicare system, and he plans to go again. The current health care system has had a negative impact on TMH, but the hospital is not in jeopardy of losing any services.

Phelps said more than 60 percent of hosptial business, or the number of patients, are Medicare or Medicaid patients. The government pays only 72 percent of the hospital cost of services, according to Phelps. That leaves the hospital covering the other 28 percent of Medicare and Medicaid services. Medicare and Medicaid patients are 43.34 percent of the total patient revenues for the hospital.

An ongoing issue in the federal government is what to do with the surplus of revenue. Some would like to see the money go back to taxpayers, but Phelps would like to see the excess $700 million from the government go to health care. Under Clinton's budget proposal, Medicare would receive more cuts.

Phelps stresses this is "mission critical" and it is necessary to "make Congress aware of the 'real pain' that the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 is causing." His next step in solving the problem is by contacting Colorado representatives and senators and getting them on board to support the necessary changes. A postcard campaign is being organized by the American Hospital Association (AHA) that involves all health care workers sending a postcard to Washington stating their displeasure with the current system. AHA hopes to flood Washington with more than 1 million postcards. This action is scheduled to begin in four weeks.

Phelps said the election in 2000 could mean the future of Medicare. Although Phelps has yet to pick a candidate to endorse, he will be favorable to any candidate willing to help rural health care providers.

During the August TMH board meeting held Wednesday, Phelps was commended for his work both at the hospital and through volunteering. He was awarded the 1999 S. Douglas Smith Quorum of Excellence Award.

Other issues currently on the hospital slate include remodeling or rebuilding the hospital building. According to Phelps, the building has structural needs. Much of the building was built in 1949 and the patient wing is 20 years old and in need of heating and air conditioning repairs.

"We need to determine whether to invest on this campus or build new," Phelps said.

TMH will meet with the Moffat County Board of Commissioners in two weeks to discuss Medicare and other issues.

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