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Schumer looks to help Nathan Littauer

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., visited Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home in Gloversville on Thursday to urge federal lawmakers the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Payments program to support hospitals that would otherwise face significant funding cuts, especially institutions in rural areas. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — Hospitals already feeling the crunch against new expenses to combat the coronavirus and falling revenues as non-essential procedures and appointments declined amidst the pandemic, could face another financial squeeze if federal lawmakers within the next month do not extend the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Payments program.

The Medicaid DSH program was designed to support hospitals that serve a high number of low-income and uninsured patients. As hospitals often receive either low reimbursement or no payment at all for treating those patients, the program provides hospitals payments for eligible uncompensated care costs.

The program was scheduled to be gradually rolled back as part of the Affordable Care Act, which was expected to extend coverage to the uninsured and eventually eliminate the need for the DSH payments to hospitals. The anticipated leap in coverage rates never materialized, leading Congress to delay scheduled DSH funding reductions several times.

Now the program is set to be slashed by $4 billion unless Congress extends the program by Dec. 11, a proposition that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday said has bipartisan support but would have to be passed by that date as part of a broader spending bill that is needed to avoid a federal government shutdown.

Schumer appeared at Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home with President and CEO Sean Fadale warning of the potential financial crisis hospitals statewide and rural institutions in particular would face if the Medicaid DSH program is allowed to expire and urging federal lawmakers to act to avert the “crippling” budgetary impact of the funding cut.

“Hospitals like Littauer play an amazing and important role as primary hospitals for thousands of residents. And hospitals like Littauer in less densely populated areas operate on very tight budgets, they always do, but now it’s worse with COVID,” said Schumer. “And all of a sudden the axe is about to come down from Washington on the hospitals in our Capital Region.”

The funding reduction over 10 years would lead to a total loss of approximately $6 billion for hospitals statewide and $58 million for Capital Region institutions. Locally, Nathan Littauer would lose approximately $4.66 million and St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam would lose approximately $2.69 million.

“These cuts would be devastating, that would mean hundreds and maybe thousands of jobs lost here in the Capital Region because they wouldn’t have the money to pay the people they need to provide the healthcare,” Schumer continued. “My pledge to the Capital Region and to every hospital in the Capital Region is I am going to do everything I can to prevent these awful cuts from going into effect. Awful enough in normal times, even worse in COVID times.”

Fadale noted that acquiring the 90-day stockpile of personal protective equipment for staff members as mandated by the Department of Health to combat the coronavirus alone cost Nathan Littauer an unanticipated $400,000.

“It has been a long fight, it has been a hard fight and it has been very costly economically and from a personal perspective,” said Fadale. “And that cost is unsustainable in the face of cuts that may be out in front of us,”

Another federal program, the 340B Drug Pricing Program, is also in danger, according to Fadale. The program aimed at keeping patient care affordable by supporting hospitals that care for populations largely covered by Medicare, Medicaid or no insurance.

The program allows eligible healthcare providers to prescribe medications at a heavily discounted purchase price while available insurance provides set reimbursement rates for the medication, allowing the institution to retain the difference between the purchase price and reimbursement amount.

Reimbursements are expected to be cut by nearly 30 percent based on a decision from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The program is critically important to rural hospitals across the country and it is one of our lifelines. If the proposed cuts go through for 340B that is an additional $2 million of cuts in revenue for Nathan Littauer Hospital,” said Fadale.

Hospitals are also beginning to plan for the eventual distribution of coronavirus vaccines as several pharmaceutical companies in recent weeks have applied for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after completing months-long clinical trials.

“For us from a logistics and financial perspective to effectively deploy the vaccines in this rural area it’s going to take funding and take resources,” said Fadale. “For us to be able to do that effectively again in the face of these cuts would be incredibly challenging.”

“At a time when we need to be supporting our hospitals with robust funding to help them keep their doors open and doctors available, threatening them with substantial cuts to essential funding is fundamentally wrong. I am sending a message to my colleagues in Congress, loud and clear: I will not accept any proposal that hurts Upstate New Yorkers’ access to healthcare, and will fight tooth and nail to make sure these cuts are stopped,” said Schumer.

Schumer added that negotiations for a possible coronavirus relief bill would resume this week after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to reopen discussions with Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Schumer pointed to the need to pass a multi-priority bill featuring funding for hospitals, unemployment assistance, small business assistance, the safe operation of schools and aid for state and local governments as quickly as possible.

“The sooner the better, people are suffering,” said Schumer.

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