VENTURA COUNTY: Senators Go to Bat for Medicare Funds
U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D) and Dianne Feinstein (D) weighed in Tuesday on a dispute between Ventura County's medical clinics and the HCFA over improper billing. The dispute could result in millions of dollars in lost Medicare funding for Ventura County, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a joint statement, the senators implored HHS officials to "adopt a 90-day 'cooling-off' period before deciding whether to penalize further 34 of 43 county health clinics" for improper billing by lowering Medicare reimbursement rates. "The thousands of Medicare patients who benefit from the primary health care services provided by county health clinics should not be penalized while these administrative problems are solved," they wrote. The controversy centers around HCFA's "contention that most of the county's clinics operate independently from the Ventura County Medical Center and should not be billing Medicare at a higher, hospital-based rate." Since July, HCFA has been "withholding thousands of dollars each month in Medicare money." Agency officials say the clinics, located more than nine miles from the hospital, should receive Medicare outpatient reimbursement rates. The difference between the two rates -- about $2 million per year -- is vital to the clinics' survival, claim county executives, adding, "If the county loses the money, some of the clinics would be forced to close." Local officials hope that the Senators' plea will buy them time to "persuade the administration to change or drop the rule" (Johnson, 9/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.