Health Care Faces Funding Woes In New Jersey, some hospitals face closure because the fund that reimburses them for treating patients without insurance is out of money. Meanwhile, doctors across the country are railing against a bill that cuts reimbursement rates.

Health Care Faces Funding Woes

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DANIEL SCHORR: Having spent the weekend celebrating life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we return to the everyday world where life is a chancy thing.


NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: In New Jersey, hospitals are required by law to treat anyone needing care, in turn receiving reimbursement from the state, but the money for this is running out.

So take the case, detailed in the Washington Post, of Tom Smith in Plainfield, a paraplegic who needs kidney dialysis and suffers from a variety of other illnesses

Smith has been in Muhlenberg Hospital, five miles away from his home, several times in the past year. His wife thinks that Muhlenberg probably saved his life, but without reimbursement Muhlenberg operates in the red and faces closing, like six other New Jersey hospitals in the past 18 months, and Tom Smith will have to look for a hospital that's still open but further away.

New Jersey is not alone in facing a crisis in the financing of health care. Congress, back from its Independence Day holiday, is under assault by the American Medical Association because of a 10.6 percent cut ordered in Medicare reimbursement.

Last month, the House, under pressure from doctors threatening to stop treating Medicare patients, passed a bill to block these cuts. In the Senate, Republicans prevented action, and so the cuts went officially into effect on July 1st. But the Bush administration has delayed the processing of Medicare claims until the issue can be resolved. And so just imagine: A doctor is visited by a long-standing patient and asked to treat him without knowing how much the government will pay to reimburse him. The bill now pending in Congress would cancel the 10.6 percent cut in payments to doctors and instead increase the payments by a symbolic 1.1 percent starting in January, but that would be a short term fix.

Payments will go down in later years. The White House indicates that bill may be vetoed.

It's interesting to see what happens on a campaign trail where candidates outline ambitious plans for health insurance and what happens in real life, where hospitals and doctors threaten to go out of business because they feel under-compensated. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness it ain't. This is Daniel Schorr.

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