On Feb. 9, the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) joined the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) and health care leaders from across Wisconsin to advocate for rural health care priorities. Among the main topics covered were the growing health care workforce challenges, the importance of protecting the 340B prescription drug discount program and the need for Congress to extend Medicare sequester relief.
The day started with a visit with Congressman Mark Pocan, to whom rural health care leaders relayed concerns about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on retaining health care providers, from entry-level positions all the way to specialty physicians. Pocan said he has been following the growing health care workforce concerns
, particularly regarding the practices of traveling nurse staffing agencies. The rising costs hospitals and health systems are seeing from the need to rely on traveling nurse staffing agencies has highlighted the need for Congress to extend the Medicare sequester relief it has granted throughout the pandemic. Pocan noted the House of Representatives just passed a clean extension of the continuing resolution to fund the government through March 11, but he is hopeful that there will be an appetite to take up other items like the sequester relief in the next extension, given that it is slated to resume at a phased-in 1% rate starting April 1, prior to the full 2% cut which would resume July 1.
Health care leaders also spoke about the importance of the 340B prescription drug discount program
. In a meeting with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, participants thanked the Wisconsin lawmaker for her leadership on this issue over the years, including introducing legislation
that would ensure no hospital loses its 340B eligibility as a result of fluctuations in Medicaid patient mixes that occur during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural health care leaders also reiterated concerns that pharmaceutical companies and some pharmacy benefit managers have tried to either deny 340B discounts or recoup them for themselves despite Congress clearly intending the program to be used by hospitals and safety-net providers to stretch scarce federal resources. Unfortunately, these attempts to erode the program jeopardize the ability of hospitals to continue providing safety-net services that typically run at a loss, such as vital behavioral health services, free or low-cost dental or medical care and remote pharmacy dispensing sites that help rural residents avoid traveling long distances to have their prescriptions filled.
WHA will continue to advocate for these issues that protect access to rural health care and is planning an upcoming in-person fly-in to Washington, D.C., April 24-26. Contact WHA Vice President of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter