Alexander, Corker Vote Again to Strengthen Medicare, Reverse Cuts in Physician Payments, Help Tennessee Hospitals

Posted on July 15, 2008

U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Corker (R-TN) voted today to override the President’s veto of the Medicare Improvements to Patients and Providers Act. The senators’ actions reverse a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians. “I’m voting to override the President’s veto for the same reasons I voted for the bill: it strengthens Medicare and it helps Tennessee hospitals,” Alexander said. “Senator Corker and I have been fighting for fair treatment for Tennessee hospitals – especially the Regional Medical Center at Memphis – and we believe we’ve finally received assurance from Senate leaders that changes will be made to help the MED provide care to the poorest citizens in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.” “I voted again for this bill to delay harmful physician payment cuts, protect seniors’ access to doctors, keep community pharmacists in business, and to strengthen our state’s health care safety net to maintain Tennesseans’ access to care,” said Corker. “I know this entire process has been very disruptive to our physicians, their practices and their families, and I appreciate their patience as we worked to secure the best possible deal for Tennessee. While I would have preferred that the MED fix be included in this bill, we received a strong commitment from Senate leadership that the fix for the MED will be resolved as soon as possible. I’m gratified that we have been able to avoid harmful physician payment cuts for the next 18 months, and I hope we’ll begin to work on a long-term solution so that this never happens again.” Before the Senate’s July Fourth recess, Alexander and Corker voted against proceeding to consideration of the Medicare act (H.R. 6331) as it was previously written in order to push negotiators back to the table to resolve this funding issue for the MED. In discussions with Senate leadership, Alexander and Corker were able to secure strong commitments that language reinstating the MED’s ability to be reimbursed for treating Medicaid and uninsured patients from Arkansas and Mississippi will pass the Senate as soon as possible. Ensuring the MED fix allowed Alexander and Corker to vote in favor of the legislation on July 9, 2008. The MED is the primary emergency hospital provider in a 150-mile wide, tri-state area that includes Memphis as well as parts of northern Mississippi and southeastern Arkansas. According to the MED, uninsured patients account for approximately 30 percent of their caseload, resulting in $100 million annually in uncompensated care costs that the facility cannot absorb on its own. This issue has put a huge financial strain not only on the MED and Shelby County, but also on the entire safety net infrastructure throughout Tennessee. The senators noted that the bill also provides a temporary extension of disproportionate share hospital payments (DSH) for Tennessee to help hospitals off-set the cost of treating patients who are unable to pay. This 18 month extension ensures the state will receive $59 million in new federal dollars. DSH payments help compensate hospitals – like UT Medical Center, Erlanger Hospital, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the Med – that treat large numbers of Medicaid and uninsured patients. Tennessee and Hawaii are the only two states that do not have permanent DSH allotments. In December, Tennessee received a six month DSH payment. This measure was the result of strong support from Alexander, Corker, and the entire Tennessee congressional delegation. Alexander and Corker voted today to override the President’s veto of the Medicare act, H.R. 6331. With a 383-41 vote in the House and a 70-26 vote in the Senate, Congress voted to override the President’s veto of the legislation.