Bennet says his health bill amendment inspired by Grand Junction care system

A health bill amendment authored by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., would save Medicare $18 billion by offering incentives to health care communities that mirror Grand Junction’s model.

Bennet discussed his amendment to health care reform, passed by the Senate on Dec. 24, during a roundtable discussion Saturday with nine local health care leaders Saturday at St. Mary’s Hospital. Bennet praised St. Mary’s, which readmits just 3 percent of its Medicare patients within a month of a hospital stay, for working with local health agencies to track patients and keep them healthy and informed after a hospital stay. The national hospital readmission rate within a month for Medicare patients is 20 percent, he said.

Some communities may fear that fewer returning patients means revenue troubles for hospitals, but St. Mary’s Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Ladenburger said St. Mary’s weathered last year well, even with the recession. He said he has seen more people struggle to pay for insurance and health care as the economy dipped, but he has avoided layoffs by looking at supply costs and adjusting staff volumes to fit patient volumes.

Bennet said legislating a partnership like the one in Grand Junction would be near impossible, but he hopes to “put together a set of incentives that make people want to do that.”

The incentive is for new efforts, so Grand Junction will not get any federal incentives for continuing to operate its health community in an efficient manner. But Rocky Mountain Health Plans President and CEO Steve ErkenBrack is OK with that.

“When costs are driven down elsewhere, it benefits us all,” he said.

The Senate’s $871 billion health care reform bill needs to merge with a $1 trillion plan approved by the House before President Barack Obama can sign any legislation. The bills have dissimilarities not only in price tags but tax proposals, limits on federal funding of abortion, and whether to offer government-run insurance (called for in the House plan) or government supervision of private insurance (Senate plan).

Although measures cut from the legislation helped bring all 58 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate to offer a “yes” vote on the legislation, Bennet said he is not a fan of some of the deals made. He did not elaborate on which “one-off” deals particularly upset him, but he’s worried about how those deals may look to the public.

“That way of doing business looks terrible,” Bennet said.

Last-minute peace offerings included millions of dollars to help Nebraska and Louisiana handle Medicare expansion, and exemptions to Medicare cuts for Florida.

Bennet said the bill is not infallible, but it is important and better than previous drafts.

“When the American people see what’s in it and what’s not in it,” he said, they’ll see “it’s much better than the status quo.”


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