Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mike Leavitt tried to screw Utah Hospitals

Here's a story that you might have missed this holiday weekend.
A federal judge ruled Friday that Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt failed to "outfox" Congress when he pushed through a Medicaid rule that would have wiped out more than $40 million in annual funding to Utah's teaching hospitals.
The Salt Lake Tribune notes that Leavitt's "rule would have deprived the University of Utah of $36 million in annual federal funding, and $3 million for Primary Children's Medical Center. Six rural hospitals, serving Monticello, Milford, Beaver, Gunnison, Kanab and Panguitch, also stood to lose $1.2 million."

So why stick to people in Salt Lake, Monticello, Milford, Beaver, Gunnison, Kanab, Panquich and lots of other places around the U.S.? To save a few bucks Medicaid, which provides health care for poor people.

Here's what happened. Leavitt proposed this rule that would make Medicaid reimbursement on a cost-to-provider basis. "It would have meant we couldn't use Medicaid dollars for anything other than providing care to Medicaid patients," said Kim Wirthlin, the U.'s vice president of government affairs. "Prior to that, we got additional [Medicaid] money that could be used to assist in funding medical education and [health care for] the uninsured." So Democrats in Congress slipped in language in a war funding bill that reversed this rule.

The same day passed, Leavitt rushed out a "'typo-ridden' final rule to the Office of the Federal Registrar for 'emergency display and publication,' thus making it final." Why the rush? Because President Bush had yet to sign the bill, which Leavitt knew he would. This way, Bush wouldn't have to veto another war funding bill, and he wouldn't have to try another one of those ridiculous signing statements to get what he wanted: the Iraq War to continue and to keep health care from going to the 47 million uninsured.

But a federal judge effectly said, "nice try"and vacated the rule as being violative of Congressional intent. So when you take the 1-year moritorium on such rule making that was in the war funding bill, combined with the 90-comment period, you get to the end of Bush's presidency.

"Then we'll have a new administration and we can look at this whole policy issue of whether or not Medicaid funds should be used to assist in supporting graduate medical education and care for the uninsured," Wirthlin said. "And that is an important policy debate that needs to happen."

And if Obama wins the election, that Leavitt rule will never see the light of day.

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