SuperTalk Mississippi News

Wicker, Hyde-Smith push to extend Medicare reimbursements for rural hospitals

By Caleb Salers

U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., are looking to secure a four-year extension of a Medicare policy that allows rural hospitals to continue delivering quality care to their communities.

The Mississippi senators and 12 of their colleagues signed a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure that formally requested an extension of the Low Wage Index Hospital Policy.

The policy allows rural hospitals to compete for and retain high-quality staff by increasing reimbursements to hospitals in rural areas with lower overall wages. Without action, Medicare payments to these hospitals will decrease after September 30.

In the letter, the lawmakers argued that CMS should extend the policy in order to adequately evaluate the Low Wage Index Hospital Policy and its effectiveness in helping rural hospitals recruit and retain health care staff.

“Unfortunately, due to disruptions in the marketplace caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not had the opportunity to see the true impact of the Low Wage Index Hospital Policy envisioned by CMS,” the Senators wrote. “Extending the Low Wage Index Hospital Policy for four additional years will allow hospitals and the agency to better understand the policy’s true impact in a more normal environment.”

Wicker and Hyde-Smith in 2021 cosponsored the Save Rural Hospitals Act, which would establish an appropriate national minimum to the Medicare Area Wage Index to ensure that rural hospitals receive fair payment for the care they provide, while preserving the existing reimbursements for urban hospitals.

Though the legislation gained little traction in 2021, it is expected to be reintroduced in the 118th Congress.