Larsen Delivers for Island County Families Who Rely On Whidbey General for Care

May 5, 2008

Washington, D.C.— U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (WA-2) applauded today’s announcement that the federal government has approved a rule change he requested to increase TRICARE payments for Whidbey General Hospital and other critical access hospitals across the country and help ensure that local service members, military families and veterans continue to have access to the care they need.

“Today’s announcement means that we have cleared all the major hurdles and are well on our way to increased TRICARE payments for Whidbey General Hospital,” said Larsen.

Whidbey General serves a large portion of military service members, veterans, and their families on Whidbey Island.  With the October 2007 reduction of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s emergency care services, the military community has increasingly relied on Whidbey General for needed care.

TRICARE – the military's medical benefits program - has been reimbursing Whidbey General and other critical access hospitals across the country at a low rate, raising the possibility that Whidbey may be forced to stop serving TRICARE beneficiaries. Larsen has requested a rule change that would raise TRICARE payments to the same level as Medicare rates so Whidbey General can continue to provide health care to the military population.  Approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Defense (DOD) is needed for the proposed rule change to become final, and Larsen has worked to secure approval from both agencies.

On March 21, Larsen wrote a letter to OMB, the final federal agency whose approval is needed, asking them to approve the rule change for Whidbey General.

“We strongly believe that this change in TRICARE reimbursement policy is needed to help ensure that critical access hospitals in rural communities continue to provide TRICARE services to the military community, and we support the efforts of the Department of Defense to update this policy,” wrote Larsen and several of his colleagues in the House. “This change will bring substantial relief to the many critical access hospitals that provide medical care to the military population.” 

At the urging of Larsen and U.S. Senator Patty Murray, DOD signed off on the proposed rule change at the beginning of March, clearing an important hurdle and sending the proposed rule change to OMB for review.

Starting today, the rule change is subject to a 30-day public comment period after which OMB and DOD will determine if any changes need to be made before the final rule can be published as a formal regulation.

“The community has waited a long time for increased TRICARE payments, and the wait is almost over,” Larsen concluded.
 

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