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Sequester’s Medicare Cuts Mean Tough Choices for Colo. Hospitals

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(ALAMOSA, Colo.) -- While the immediate effects of the sequester may have been somewhat overstated, it threatens to have a very real impact on Colorado hospitals and their patients

In 2011, Medicare payments to Colorado hospitals were $253 million less than in 2009, according to the Colorado Hospital Association. Now those same institutions are facing another 2 percent decrease in reimbursement for Medicare services.

“For those folks that don’t have a balance sheet that’s healthy, and they’re already on the edge, it’s a very significant jeopardy,” Russ Johnson, CEO of San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center in Alamosa, Colorado told ABC News.  “I would expect not just with sequestration but with what’s happening in our country – maybe out of necessity to reduce costs – we’re going to see some hospitals that have been struggling finally not be able to continue.”

Steven Summer, president of the Colorado Hospital Association, said sequester cuts were about to hit especially hard in a state facing a drought and other economic challenges. For Coloradans, it will mean doctors and patients will have to make sacrifices.

“It could potentially have patient waits increase,” Summer said. “If it’s a staffing question then certainly staffing has an impact on patient care.”

Actual Medicare benefits may be protected from sequester cuts, but that does not mean patients won’t see a change in care. With a 2 percent reduction in payment for Medicare services, hospitals will have to look elsewhere to make up that lost revenue.

Beyond patient health, Medicare cuts mean Colorado hospitals have to re-evaluate how they adopt President Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

“This postpones the kinds of decisions we need to make to transform the health care system,” Summer told ABC News. “All those decisions related to [the ACA] have to wait until we have the stability in the system, so we can implement some of those changes in the payment system.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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