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Rural hospitals could suffer from federal subsidy cut

RHINELANDER, Wis. (WXPR) - The Wisconsin Hospital Association put out the alarm bells Friday after a report from Washington D.C. indicated a subsidy for some small rural hospitals should be discontinued.

The federal Department of Health & Human Services' Office of Inspector General recommended removing a Medicare payment status known as "Critical Access Hospital" for hospitals that do not meet certain distance requirements.

Wisconsin Hospital Association President Steve Brenton says Antigo, Merrill, Tomahawk, and Eagle River hospitals have this special status. “This program has been in existence for 20 years. It provides a special payment to our smallest rural hospitals to, quite frankly, keep them open and make sure health care access is provided in the rural communities."

Rhinelander and Minocqua hospitals are NOT in the program.

Brenton says they were startled by the report. He says dropping the the payment could cause the closing of some hospitals. “It not only has kept them open, but it has allowed them to spend money on rural health care clinics, like money-losing long-term care facilities and other community based services."

He says the threat also includes if the hospital closes, some of the higher-paid jobs in the community also leave.

Brenton says this is a political threat, but can only be ended by changing the law. He thinks there is broad support to keep the subsidy for the Critical Access Hospitals and his group and others will be talking to members of Congress about it.

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