Rural doctors, hospitals fear loss of fundingHead of state medical association concerned about potential end of ‘frontier’ Medicare funding as Congress sharpens pencils.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Health care is getting tougher to find on the “frontier,” and that’s a concern for doctors who live there.
Dr. Karla Murphy, the president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, said the state’s physicians are worried that the potential loss of extra Medicare reimbursement for rural areas could limit access to health care for rural residents and disturb patients’ continuity of care.
“It’s important that the programs that are good for South Dakota are not lost,” she said.
Murphy, of Sioux Falls, attended an SDSMA dinner last week at Chef Louie’s in Mitchell that was attended by about 30 doctors from the Mitchell, Chamberlain and Parkston areas.
“It’s a time for me to meet physicians across the state and to share good ideas that work in one community that can be applied to another community,” she said.
The immediate worry, she said, is that the budget ax of Congress's so-called Super Committee could fall on Medicare’s Frontier Amendment. The policy, which was included in the 2009 health-care overhaul legislation, provides extra money for hospitals and doctors providing medical care to sparsely populated “frontier states.”
Frontier states are made up of at least 50 percent frontier counties — counties with less than six people per square mile. South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Utah all fit the description.
Losing the funding differential could cost South Dakota doctors about $6 million and hospitals $30 million.
Murphy said she and other physicians expressed their concerns to South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem and Sen. John Thune, both Republicans, last week in Washington D.C.
“We’ve learned that what makes sense in Washington, D.C., doesn’t work out here,” Murphy said.
South Dakota’s vast distances and uncertain weather make the delivery of cost-effective health care in rural areas difficult.
Most important to physicians, Murphy said, is that they’re involved in the decisions that impact their patients.