November 19,2003

Baucus Supports Rural Provisions in Medicare Conference Report

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Senator Max Baucus delivered the following comments at a press conference highlighting the significant rural provisions included in the Medicare conference agreement. Also attending the press conference were Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), John Breaux (D-La.), and Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.)

"Good morning. I'm pleased to be joining Chairman Grassley, Senator Breaux andSenator Thomas to focus on the many important rural provisions that we've included in theMedicare conference report.

I'd like to thank all three for their hard work and support. Senator Breaux and I shared theresponsibility of being the only Democrats in the conference committee. Together we were ableto accomplish many of our goals for the bill. And as the chair of the Rural Health Caucus and amember of the Finance Committee, I know Senator Thomas feels just as strongly aboutprotecting rural America as I do.

And let me take a moment to add to my thanks to Chairman Grassley for his dedicationand commitment to working together. Chuck and I have been through a lot together --negotiations on two major tax bills, a Chairmanship that has swung back and forth, and nowcrafting the largest improvement to Medicare since its enactment almost 40 years ago.

This week, we've been going door to door together talking to Members of both ourparties about the Medicare conference agreement. It's been good to hear their ideas and concernsand work to address them. We have a united front and I believe that we'll achieve victory on thisbill.

Senator Grassley and I have always said that one of the reasons we work so well togetheris that we're both rural state Senators. We know the challenge and advantages of rural Americabecause we both grew up there -- and go back as often as possible.

Strong protections for rural America and rural seniors have been my line in the sandthroughout the Medicare negotiations. And I know they have been for Chairman Grassley aswell. I would never support a bill that would undermine traditional fee-for-service Medicare

because that's the only option available to seniors in my state -- and in many rural regions allacross our country.

The rural provisions included in the Medicare conference agreement is the largest ruralpackage ever considered by Congress. We'll be sending $25 Billion specifically to ruralAmerica. For my state of Montana, that means our hospitals and doctors will gain approximately$100 million over the next ten years. These funds will strengthen our health care infrastructureacross the country.

Let me just touch on some of the benefits:

1. Hospitals:

Our bill ensures that equal reimbursement payments continue for rural and smallurban hospitals. For too long, our rural hospitals have been getting the short end of the stick. Aprocedure for a hip replacement costs the same in Billings, Montana as it does in New York City-- and should be reimbursed at the same level. These provisions will level the playing field.We're also increasing payments to Critical Access Hospitals. I was proud to bethe author of the Critical Access Hospital program back in 1997 and now 60 percent of thehospitals in my state are designated as 'Critical Access.' These are small, rural hospitals thatprovide life saving care to people who would otherwise be hours and hours away from thenearest hospital. And we'll provide a hand to our Disproportionate Share Hospitals -- thosehospitals that care for an unusually large share of low-income Medicare patients.

2. Doctors:

At the very heart of rural care are the doctors. The life of a rural doctor can beespecially challenging, so we include incentives to encourage doctors to serve in rural areas.We're also readjusting rural Medicare physician payments to provide them withthe support they deserve. Right now, Medicare de-values rural physicians’ time and effort ascompared with physicians practicing in an urban area. This isn't right and our bill will fix it.Another important provision for doctors across the country is the across-the-boardincrease in physician fees. We'll reverse the anticipated 4.5 % cut and add a 1.5% increase in2004 and 2005.

These are all great provisions that we must work hard to see enacted this year. Passage ofthe Medicare conference agreement will go a long way to help rural seniors and rural providers.This is a prescription drug bill, but it's so much more. We're working to take care of thehealth needs of our seniors at all levels -- ensuring they have access to the doctors and hospitalsthey need, when the y need them. This is a $400 Billion opportunity in front of us. This bill istoo important to rural American, too important to America's seniors and too important to me, tolet it pass us by."