Change in mileage requirement for hospitals could assist rural areas

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rural parts of Marengo County and the surrounding area could gain a new critical access hospital if a bill to reduce the distance requirement for establishing critical access hospitals from 35 to 30 miles passes the Alabama Legislature.

U.S. Representative Artur Davis (D-Birmingham) introduced H.R. 2322 this month in and effort to expand access to healthcare in the Black Belt and other parts of rural Alabama.

Ealons said the range was originally established to prevent undue competition.

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Ealons said Marengo County differs from many of the counties Davis represents, in that it houses Bryan W. Whitfield Hospital in Demopolis.

Congressman Davis, who represents nine of the 12 counties in the Black Belt, including Choctaw County where the proposed Rush facility is being built, said he believes that changing this rule is necessary to begin expanding healthcare coverage in the region.

The bill, introduced May 15, 2007 after months of negotiations, would reduce the mileage requirement for critical access hospitals from 35 miles to 30 miles.

When the 35-mile standard was established in the 1997 Balanced Budget Amendment, the authors hoped to strike a balance between convenient access to quality healthcare and unnecessary competition among healthcare facilities in communities.

However, it was discovered that the mileage requirement was severely prohibitive in certain portions of the country including Alabama.

A waiver on the mileage requirement was granted, however Alabama did not take advantage of it before its expiration in December 2005. Now Davis is seeking to make adjustments for Alabama, Ealons said.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Ways and Means on which Davis serves. The committee deals with the bulk of federal healthcare issues in the country.

Fully implemented throughout the state, the critical access model would revolutionize how healthcare is delivered in Alabama. Davis said he believes in the mission of Rush and will continue to push for this change in Congress for the people of Choctaw County and the rest of rural Alabama.