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Words from Washington

Supporting children's health program shouldn't come at expense of others

Ensuring that children have access to health care is a priority we all share. That's why I voted to create the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 1997. This program provides grants for states to help children who need it most.

In order for SCHIP to continue beyond September, the program must be renewed - and I support that. But, continuing this children's health program need not come at the expense of the Medicare plans of over 150,000 Washingtonians and the shut down of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center. Yet, this is precisely what the House-passed Democrat bill would do.

Buried within the bill is a provision that would require the closure of Wenatchee Valley Medical Center facilities in Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Moses Lake, Cashmere, Royal City, Omak, Tonasket and Oroville.

The bill threatens the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center with shut down because of a provision prohibiting any hospital from being more than 40 percent owned by doctors if they are to continue receiving Medicare payments for care provided to seniors. The Medical Center was founded in 1940 by three doctors seeking to provide care for an under-served population. Today, 150 doctors collectively own 100 percent of the Medical Center.

I see no reason why the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, and the 250,000 people it serves, should be penalized simply because it's owned by doctors.

That's why I authored an amendment that would ensure that the Medical Center is able to stay open. My amendment would have simply removed the requirement in the bill that could force certain hospitals to close if they are more than 40 percent owned by doctors. I am disappointed that Democrat leadership refused to allow my amendment from even being considered.

As if closure of a major health care facility is not bad enough, the SCHIP bill also puts at risk Medicare Advantage health coverage for over 150,000 Washington seniors by cuts in the bill. And, requires additional Medicare cuts for oxygen services, inpatient care, inpatient rehabilitation services, skilled nursing facilities and home health care services.

How do you expand health care to more Americans if you are forcing the shut down of a hospitals and the elimination of Medicare plans that seniors have chosen?

I stand ready to work toward extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program - and I know that at the end of the day it can be accomplished without closing the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, jeopardizing access to health care in Central Washington or cutting Medicare benefits for seniors.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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