Despite their promise to end the secrecy of earmarks and other pet projects, the House Demorats have quietly funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to specific hospitals and health care providers by pretending that these institutions are located in high cost areas. So reports Robert Pear in the New York Times.
According to the Times, the purpose of the legislation is to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program and to enhance benefits for older people in traditional Medicare. But the Times found that the legislation also directs large sums of money to approximately 40 favored hospitals by increasing their Medicare payments.
Here’s how it works. The formula for paying hospitals under Medicare adjusts payments for differences in the wage rates of different geographic areas. The standard payment ranges from about $4,100 per case in a low-wage area to more than $6,500 per case in high-wage counties.
The House legislation funnels money to favored hospitals by treating them as if they are in high wage areas even though they aren’t. For example, two hospitals in Kingston, New York will be paid as if they were in New York City, which is 80 miles away, thanks to the efforts of Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchley. And, thanks to Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak, “any hospital co-located in Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee, Michigan is deemed to be located in Chicago.” Only one hospital, Bay Area Medical Center in Green Bay, fits that description. Yet wage rates in Green Bay bear little resemblance to those in Chicago.
This legislation illustrates why pork is always likely to be with us. The geographic sleight-of-hand should enhance the local popularity of Hinchley, Stupak and others like Rep. Marcy Kaptur who brought home bacon through this legislation. And it’s not likely to result in any cost to the hundreds of representatives who voted for the legislation, most of whom will be awarded with similar pork down the road. If enough other things go wrong in some future election cycle (such as an unpopular war or a major scandal) there may be a day of reckoning for House members. However, there’s little reason to believe that those who bring pork to their district will be more vulnerable that year than those who don’t. I notice, for example, that Reps. Murtha and Mollohan are still in Congress.
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