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Increases in Medicare aid local health care

Over the next five years, hospitals are expected to receive $14-billion more than they would have before recent changes.

U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman praised Congress and President Clinton for recently increasing the reimbursement rates that hospitals, hospices, home health agencies and nursing homes may receive from Medicare. She said the move should help correct some of the troubles that arose after passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

Groups that represent health providers said the 1997 law, which reduced Medicare reimbursement in many areas, was leading to compromised care. The changes certainly have had an effect in Citrus' home health market, which has lost several agencies in large part because of Medicare funding restrictions.

During the next five years, hospitals are expected to receive $14-billion more than they originally would have. Teaching hospitals, rural hospitals and those that treat a large share of indigent patients will receive much of the extra cash.

Home health agencies are in line to receive $1.7-billion more in the next five years than they otherwise would have. The law also provides more money to pay for preventive care, such as cancer screenings. Thurman co-sponsored many of those measures.

Thurman received even more good news from the White House: Clinton signed into law a Thurman-backed measure that ensures Medicare coverage of anti-rejection drugs that organ transplant patients need.

Medicare coverage for the drugs once lasted only 36 months. With Thurman's help, the deadline was extended eight more months. Now the coverage is there for life.

The drugs cost up to $12,000 per year for each patient.

"It's ridiculous to have Medicare pay for dialysis and the transplant, yet fail to pay for the drugs needed by a transplant recipient to keep their new organ functioning," Thurman said.

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