Whidbey General gets more for treating military patients

Today, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Rick Larsen announced they were successful at getting a federal rule change in an effort specially aimed at helping Whidbey General Hospital.

The two Democratic lawmakers from Washington helped change a federal regulation that will assist Whidbey General Hospital in continuing to treat military personnel, military retirees and their families.

The rule change will require TRICARE – the military’s medical benefit program – to increase federal reimbursement payments for medical services to a level similar to that of Medicare. The new rule means that Whidbey General and other "critical access hospitals," which received reimbursements for military care at a lower rate, will be able to provide continued access to care. The rule change was recently published in the federal register.

Whidbey General officials were concerned that the financial burden of caring for members of the military when reimbursement rates are so low. The hospital has long served a large portion of military service members, military retirees and their families on Whidbey Island.

The problem with low reimbursements only got worse after the reduction of emergency care services at the Navy hospital on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in 2007. That meant more members of the military turned to Whidbey General for medical help.

“This is a big victory not only for Whidbey military families, but also for Whidbey General and critical access hospitals everywhere that have been providing care without the reimbursement they deserve,” Murray said in a press release. “Access to quality care for those who’ve served should never be in doubt. This rule change means that in areas where rural hospitals are the only option, the needs of our military personnel, veterans and their families will be served.”

Larsen agreed.

“This rule change means the doors of Whidbey General will continue to be open to our local military personnel and their families,” he said. “The community has been waiting for this, Whidbey General has been waiting for this, and our efforts have finally paid off. I will continue to work to meet the needs of the military men and women who call Whidbey home.

The situation facing Whidbey General and other critical access hospitals prompted Sen. Murray and Congressman Larsen to contact Defense Secretary Robert Gates on January 31, 2008. Larsen also contacted the Office of Management and Budget on March 21st, 2008 and Secretary Gates a second time on March 23, 2009.

The rule change was cleared by the Department of Defense earlier this year, reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and officially published in the federal register on August, 31st 2009.

"I am very pleased that this rate increase ensures that our nation's deserving TRICARE beneficiaries will continue to receive quality health care from critical access hospitals in rural areas all across the west, and appreciate the hospitals and staff that continue to serve them so capably," said David J. McIntyre, Jr., president and CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

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