Oklahoma's six-member congressional
delegation voted with the majority Friday as the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to restore billions of dollars previously trimmed from Medicare payments to hospitals, nursing
homes and other caregivers.
The vote was 388-25.
Republican Reps. Tom Coburn, Ernest Istook, Steve Largent, Frank Lucas, Wes Watkins and J.C. Watts voted for the measure.
Lucas, a co-sponsor, said the legislation will help rural health care providers keep the door open for patients in rural areas.
"We cannot stop here, however," Lucas said in a statement from his Washington, D.C., office. He said more must be down during the
second session of Congress next year.
"Right now in Oklahoma we have had 32 closures of home health agencies in 1997-1998 alone and are on track to witness the closure
of 23 hospitals through 2002 if Medicare policies are not changed," Lucas said.
"Our hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and other health providers have already financially slimmed themselves down
to negative operating margins. We can ask no more of them."
Watkins, also a co-sponsor and member of the Ways and Means Committee that drafted the legislation, said the measure will strengthen rural hospitals by extending the Medicare Dependent Hospital program for rural areas and providing financial relief to some sole community hospitals.
"It strengthens the Medicare program and is very good news for seniors in the Third District and across America who rely on Medicare," Watkins said. "Thanks to the provisions of this bill, rural hospitals and some health care agencies will be better able to meet the health care needs of seniors."
"Congress has saved rural health care," said Coburn, who maintains a medical practice in Muskogee.
"Rural hospitals, outpatient facilities and nursing homes throughout the country would have been forced to close their doors
because of the funding cuts in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997," Coburn said.
"This legislation provided the major repairs we needed. Now we can expect reimbursement rates to be at or close to their 1996 levels," he said.