WASHINGTON – Trying to reverse Congressional action she says was responsible for eliminating home health care services for 7,000 Maine seniors, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins asked Senate leaders Wednesday to separate a bill that would increase funding for the nation’s health care providers from a tax bill that has stalled before the Senate.
Collins spearheaded a letter signed by 21 Republican senators suggesting that GOP leadership isolate the emergency relief package that would restore funding for Medicare and Medicaid providers eliminated by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
Over time, the cutbacks have created what Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., called a “national emergency.”
“I am committed to passing this relief package this session,” Collins said.
“I think we should have no higher priority than to restore spending to our nation’s hospitals, and in particular, our small, rural hospitals.”
Collins is responsible for a provision in the relief package that would aid home health providers, by delaying an additional 15 percent cut to services scheduled to go into effect in October 2001.
“In the last few months, I’ve visited many home health care providers in the Bangor and Saco areas. They’ve told me of the impact of [the cuts] already implemented,” Collins said, citing 7,000 seniors who have lost their home health care services.
Collins said that the providers she spoke with were convinced that, in at least one of these 7,000 cases, a woman died due to an open cut that led to an untreated infection.
“And that is just the tip of the iceberg,” Collins said.
Health care experts testified to the urgency of the relief measure in a Capitol Hill forum on Wednesday.
“[The legislation] is of paramount importance not just to America’s hospitals, but also to the patients and communities they serve,” said Charles Barnett, who serves as president and chief executive officer of Seton Health Care Network, in Austin, Tex.
The federal government’s cuts to hospitals and other health care providers went far beyond what Congress intended when it passed the Balanced Budget Act, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tex., said in a statement.