A handful of stories in Washington generally get about 90 percent of the media’s attention. Don’t get me wrong, many of those stories are important, but much of my time in Washington is also focused on getting things done for Alabama that don’t make the front page. This week we got a big win on just one of those many issues. Over the last ten years, Alabama has seen a string of hospitals close. Today, 88 percent of our rural Alabama hospitals are operating in the red. This is unsustainable and represents a major challenge. When a rural hospital closes, it can be devastating for the surrounding area. High paying jobs are lost. Folks must drive much further for their healthcare. And, it makes it harder to attract new jobs and opportunity to our rural communities, one of my major goals. A significant driver of the hospital closure problem is a broken Medicare formula known as the “Wage Index”. Under the Wage Index, hospitals are paid different amounts for doing the exact same work. Some difference in payment makes sense, but Alabama hospitals are often paid thousands less than similar hospitals as nearby as Georgia or Florida. Some hospitals in areas like California and New York can be paid almost three times as much as Alabama hospitals. This is simply unfair and makes no sense. For nearly three decades, Alabama hospitals have been facing declining Medicare reimbursement due to this fundamentally flawed reimbursement system. It has put an incredible strain on Alabama hospitals that has culminated in our rural hospital closures over the last decade. To make it worse, under the Wage Index, the difference grows every year. The more your hospital spends, often the more it gets from Medicare. Only in Washington would we reward hospitals that bloat their costs with more money while punishing those who operate efficiently, but that is exactly how the Wage Index works. It has been a problem for Alabama for almost 30 years. When President Trump came into office, one of the first things I did was meet with his Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma about this issue. Administrator Verma promised that she would look into the Wage Index. For nearly two years, my office continued to work with CMS looking for a solution. Representative Terri Sewell and I organized 45 House Members whose districts have this same problem to make suggestions on fixes to the Trump Administration. Based on that hard work, the Trump Administration put forward an exciting new proposal last week to reform the Wage Index. Under the Administration’s plan, Alabama hospitals are set to receive approximately $34 million more per year from Medicare, with much of that money going to rural hospitals that need it the most. Even better, none of this is new spending. It’s simply redirecting federal funds that Alabama hospitals are owed that have been unfairly going to places like Los Angeles. This is a huge win for our state and will help with the rural hospital problem. Like I said, you probably won’t hear much about it in the news. It’s not flashy, it’s not something that generates views and clicks, but things like this are critical to my work in Washington to move things forward for Alabama. For years I have been calling for greater protections for our rural hospitals. It’s about more than just healthcare: it’s about jobs, it’s about growth, and it’s about our communities. Too often, rural America is forgotten in Washington. As long as I am there, I will always advocate for our rural communities here in Alabama.

Published 12:47 pm Wednesday, May 1, 2019

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In 1989, thirty years ago, an article appeared in The Brewton Standard about Bessie Downing, who had a large collection of bears. She said, “Nobody has any trouble deciding what to give to me. I am always happy with a bear.”
Myrtice West, had a display of her artwork on display at Jefferson Davis Junior College. She had been painting for a long time. Her art teacher said she was still going strong at the age of 90.
I remember Miss Myrtice a little after we first came to Brewton. I had no idea that she could paint that good.
Escambia County High School 4-H Club had a sewing show of the items the members had made out of t-shirts. The students modeled the clothing.
Robbins and McGowin closed its doors after being in the same building downtown Brewton since 1909, It had been an important fixture for a long time but two serious floods, an explosion and an arson attempt had just been too much. This building was a familiar icon and still stands today. If someone would just open a business that would stand the test of time, the building could go on for another 100 years
Hugh Fountain was back at his old childhood school to take over the coaching position at W.S. Neal. He came from Hillcrest.
Former East Brewton mayor, Bill Thomas, died.
An Atmore woman was killed in a car/truck collision.
Kevin Miller (W.S. Neal) and Lance McInnish (T.R. Miller) were named Players of the Week in baseball.
There were about 200 people left without power after strong heavy rain came through.
Aaron Raulerson, teenager from T.R. Miller High School, was spending his time picking up garbage and trash, not because he was told to do it, but he said he wanted to do his part to keep the earth a little cleaner.
Talk in town was all about the possibility of getting Hwy. 31 two laned to Evergreen, but someone suggested that the Appleton Road would be better as it was a shorter route. Well we know what happened there.
An inmate at Holman Prison serving a life-long sentence was given another life sentence for trying to start a fire at the prison.
The Arts Council was to present “Princess and the Pea.” The Birmingham Children’s Theater was bringing it to town.
Brewton Middle School held a Mexican Fiesta with dancing and taking turns at the piñata.
Ray Fountain was named governor of the Lions Club.
For those who had signed up to help clean up in Adopt-A-Mile program, it was time to get busy.
Robbie Cotton won the Obed Monk Golf Tourney.
Thanks to the sponsorship of Southern Pine, there were some lucky students got a trip to Washington, D.C.
A couple who ran from Alabama Troopers were captured while driving a stolen car taken from Alexander City.
The Escambia County Courthouse was ransacked by candlelight.

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