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Critical Access designation facing crisis

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy

Critical Access Hospitals provide vital health care for constituents living in the small, rural areas of the 7th Congressional District — of which there are many.

However, the Administration is threatening to take away their designation. For some of these hospitals, this could mean shutting their doors. The Administration says it is in an effort to save money, but according to many chief executive officers who run these hospitals, it could cost lives.

On Jan. 21, I hosted a roundtable discussion at Osceola Medical Center with dozens of hospital leaders from various critical access hospitals around the 7th District, including Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Hospital in Superior. We had an honest conversation about the impact a change in designation could have on their ability to care for their patients.

The president has proposed to take the “Critical Access” designation from hospitals that are within 10 miles of another hospital. However, it seems this number has simply been pulled out of a hat. Why not 12, or 20?

To a bureaucrat in Washington D.C., looking at a piece of paper, 10 miles might not sound like much, but to a Wisconsinite driving through unplowed roads in the middle of a Wisconsin winter it could mean the difference between life and death.

That is a hefty price for a comparatively small amount of savings. In 2011, this proposal would have saved $373 million. The Medicare budget for the same period was about $550 billion. To force these hospitals to lose their designation to save less than 0.0006 percent is math that only Washington bureaucrats could rationalize.

It does not make sense for people in Washington to make decisions for a community few of them have visited and for patients they have never met. I heard this frustration echoed by several of the participants in the meeting and it is not unique to the designation determination.

As the conversation inevitably turned to the President’s health care law, their frustration followed. From the disastrous rollout to the confusion on how to comply with thousands of new regulations, these hospitals are looking for guidance and are having trouble finding it.

Gordon Lewis, CEO of Burnett Medical Center, put it best during our discussion: “There is a sacred place between the doctor and the patient, and that is going away with these Affordable Care Act rules.”

We must get back to discussing patient centered reforms, not Washington centered reforms.

I know the positive impact that these doctors and hospitals have on our rural communities because I see and hear about it frequently from the patients who have been well served by them.

I will take our conversation with me to Washington, continue the fight to save our hospitals and ensure that we have a system in place that will allow our Critical Access Hospitals to keep their doors open and continue to provide vital care to our rural communities.

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, represents the 7th Congressional District of Wisconsin.