By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) – A standoff at the state Capitol is threatening the survival of rural Colorado hospitals.
Lawmakers have reached an impasse on a bill that, if unresolved, could result in some Coloradans driving more than 100 miles for health care.
The Colorado Hospital Association says 80 percent of hospitals will face cuts this year if the bill fails. Denver Health would take the biggest hit — $52 million. But rural hospitals, that are already struggling, will be hit hardest. Some of them already have plans in place to close if lawmakers can’t reach a deal.
CBS4 traveled to Lincoln Community Hospital in Hugo to get a sense of the impact. It is the only hospital in a 160-mile stretch on the Eastern Plains. Kevin Stansbury is the executive director.
“Rural health care is threatened by the outcome of this bill. If it doesn’t happen, there will be hospitals that close,” Stansbury said.
At issue is money hospitals receive to help reimburse for Medicaid patients. That money that would be cut by more than a half billion dollars if the bill doesn’t pass. Stansbury says they’re barely breaking even now.
“We’re going to do everything possible to stay open and continue to provide services but we may have to make some hard choices of what those services are,” he said.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, says it’s a matter of life or death for many Coloradans.
“Imagine if you’re in that community and your father has chest pains or your child is hurt in an accident when seconds make a difference, let alone minutes, and Heaven forbid hours,” he said.
Sonnenberg and Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, are sponsoring the bill that makes an accounting change in the state budget, which allows hospitals to receive more reimbursement, but lowers the amount of money the state can spend on other things.
It’s a trade off the Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran rejects.
“We are trying to do everything we possibly can to invest in hospitals across the state of Colorado but the proposal that they have brought forward is irresponsible,” Duran said.
Guzman — the Democratic leader in the Senate — took issue with that assessment.
“I don’t understand why anyone would call this bill irresponsible. This hospital provider fee bill is the most important issue for the state of Colorado,” Guzman said.
The bill has pitted Democrat against Democrat and Republican against Republican. If it fails, not only will rural communities lose health care, but in many cases their biggest employer.
“It’s unconscionable that we would leave our people in Colorado in that situation,” Guzman said.
The bill was scheduled for a hearing Tuesday. Lawmakers delayed it until Thursday in hopes of reaching a compromise. But with just 11 days left in the session, time is running out.