Medicare reimbursements not keeping up

Keokuk Area Hospital faces a challenging financial future.

Like most hospitals in Iowa, it's losing millions of dollars a year because of low payments from the state and Uncle Sam.

Is Keokuk Area Hospital just squeeking by?

Wally Winkler, Chief Financial Officer for Keokuk Area Hospital, said, "Yes I think that is a good description. Keokuk Area Hospital like many of our rural Iowa counterparts re in survival mode."

Here's the problem. For years Medicare pays 14 percent less than what it actually costs for hospitals to provide the care to patients. Medicaid payments are even lower and many times are late in coming. For Keokuk Area Hospital, that adds up to a two million dollar loss every year. That doesn't take into account the three million dollars the hospital can't re-coup by providing care to uninsured patients and charity cases.

Wally Winkler is the Chief Financial Officer at Keokuk area hospital. He says those losses add up fast and they hurt the hospital in the end.

Winkler said, "Our issues are really that after years and years of those low reimbursements, its difficult to keep up with facilities and we have to delay some improvements in information technology."

Even while Iowa ranks third lowest in the nation for medicare reimbursements it's not hurting patient care. In fact that's where Iowa tops the charts.

According to a recent Commonwealth Fund Study Iowa hospitals are number two in the nation for quality of patient care, patient access and affordability.

That's the case now but folks like Winkler and Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack are concerned all that could change if something isn't done soon.

Congressman Dave Loebsack said, "Iowa has consistently the best or nearly the best patient care and quality of care and consistently we're at or near the bottom as far as reimbursement rates are concerned. That has an impact on care long term because it makes it difficult for local hospitals and clinics to recruit physicians and other healthcare professionals."

And its not just doctors. Iowa faces a nursing shortage because the state has some of the lowest nursing salaries to offer graduates. And that all goes back to low medicare reimbursements.

Urban hospitals as well as very small hospitals with fewer than 25 beds do not face the same financial troubles. The federal government pays them at full cost.

Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa's second district says he's working on ways funding can be increased for hospitals like Keokuk Area Hospital.