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Seniors create budget wrinkle

An aging population is reducing revenues at Rifle’s Grand River Hospital District.A reference guide issued Thursday by the Colorado Health & Hospital Association reports that in 2001, 19 percent of Grand River’s charges were not paid because of Medicare underfunding, up 1.5 percent from 2000. Medicare is a federal insurance program primarily for people 65 and over. But the program pays only a portion of a Medicare patient’s bill. The remaining balance becomes the hospital’s bad debt. Kris Swanson, Grand River’s public relations director, said the district is taking steps to improve Medicare payments. Hospital officials are in the process of registering Clagett Memorial Hospital – and Grand River’s new hospital under construction – as a Critical Access Hospital. The CAH designation allows hospitals 20 miles or more from a major health facility to receive a higher percentage of Medicaid and Medicare funding. “CAH designation is designed to help small rural facilities handle reimbursement issues,” Swanson said.Swanson said the designation will boost Medicare reimbursements, but she doesn’t see an easy solution to health care costs any time in the future. “Since the early ’90s, Hillary Clinton has been saying that the health care and health insurance situation in this country is going to get worse before it gets better,” she said. “In our district, our aging population and increases in the number of residents moving into the area is affecting our numbers.”Swanson said even with the district’s new designation, Medicare payments will continue to be a concern. “In the best of circumstances, Medicare still doesn’t reimburse at 100 percent,” she said. “As baby boomers continue to age, Medicare underfunding is going to be a big problem.”Overall, the report states that in 2001, Grand River’s overall percentage of unfunded care was at 29 percent. That’s divided between the 19 percent lost to Medicare and 10 percent lost to patients unwilling or unable to pay for their own medical care.”That’s probably pretty accurate,” said Swanson. “We are higher than any other hospital in the area for unfunded care, but we’re still below the national average, which is at 35 percent.”However, Grand River ranks above the state average of unfunded care at 27.6 percent. That figure equals more than $3 billion statewide.Valley View Hospital’s numbers reflect a far lower percentage of unpaid Medicare billing than Grand River’s. In 2001, Valley View incurred just 3.1 percent of unpaid Medicare billing. Valley View’s total unpaid bills, including Medicare, Medicaid, bad debt and charity, are at 6.6 percent.Both hospital districts avoided the fate of 36 percent of Colorado hospitals included in the Colorado Health and Hospital Association report. Out of the 66 hospitals, 24 lost money on care provided to patients in 2001.Even with outstanding debt, Grand River managed a slim profit. In 2001, the district had $13.8 million in operating expenses, and $13.5 million in operating revenue, resulting in a 1.6 percent profit of $226,000.Valley View reported $47.8 million in operating expenses, and $51.4 million in operating revenue, resulting in a 6.8 percent profit of $3.5 million.The guide notes that unfunded care affects all patients treated at Colorado hospitals, since “the greater the percentage of patients whose care is unfunded or underfunded, the more a hospital will need to charge other patients to make up for these losses and meet its financial requirements.”


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