Not fair at all
For about 15 years, Kingston and Benedictine hospitals (now HealthAlliance Hospitals) have been underpaid by Medicare. Northern Dutchess and Vassar hospitals in Dutchess County receive about 25 percent more Medicare reimbursement for the same procedure. This is an underpayment of about $10 million per year for Kingston’s hospitals. For 15 years, Kingston has lost about $150 million.
What has this caused?
1) Nurses and technicians get paid more at Northern Dutchess Hospital. Nurses that hire and train in Kingston often leave for jobs in Dutchess County.
2) Dutchess hospitals attract more Medicare hospital admissions, nurses and doctors, while Kingston loses medical expertise.
3) Empire Blue Cross-Blue Shield has decided to drop Kingston hospital admissions for seniors, non-seniors and every age bracket, since Blue Cross and Kingston Hospital cannot agree on a fair reimbursement schedule. Why? Because Blue Cross wants to reimburse Kingston at a lower rate, which is consistent with the lower Medicare reimbursement rate of Ulster versus Dutchess counties. All Ulster County government employees, who are covered by Empire Blue Cross, cannot receive in-hospital treatment at Kingston Hospital.
Our local hospital officials and some politicians have tried over the past 15 years to appeal this injustice, but they have failed to correct this unfairness, which almost destroyed our local hospitals.
Personally, I believe that this 15 years of Medicare unfairness deserved to be fought with a lawsuit by the Kingston/HealthAlliance/WMC Hospital. By now, we people of Ulster County would have gotten the attention of news outlets, government agencies and the court system.
Out on the trail
This fine Sunday morning I took a bicycle ride from Kingston out along Hurley Mountain Road. On my way back to Kingston I decided to take a ride on the paved section of O&W Hurley Rail Trail. While on the O&W I was delighted to separately encounter six brand-new bicyclists aged 4-5 years old. These new cyclists were accompanied by family members who were walking and some cases running along with the children.
I chatted with a few of the children and parents and commended the children on how well they were doing. One 4-year-old, riding for the first time without training wheels, took off like a rocket with a big smile on her face when I asked her to show me how well she rode. Her mom had a big grin too.
These experiences put a smile on my face and served as a reminder of why we need quality rail trails.
The most important thing is that great ideas that benefit the good people of Ulster County are realized. In response to County Executive Hein’s announcement about his campaign finance reform legislation, I had first spoken about the need for campaign finance reform in a 2014 speech to the legislature. Later that year Hein introduced a local law which would limit contributions to candidates and elected officials by contractors doing business with the county and would discourage elected officials from asking his or her employees from making campaign contributions. That initiative has been met with opposition from the executive’s office from the beginning. Rather than collaborating on this law he chose to have opposition opinions submitted minutes before legislative committees were scheduled to vote.
This is not the first time something like this has occurred. In 2013 and 2014 resolutions calling for the takeover of election cost from the towns were before the legislature. Arguing that the county’s fiscal health would not sustain such an expense, the county executive worked to have the legislation defeated in committee. Despite his claims, Mr. Hein included the takeover in his 2015 budget touting the initiative as the right thing to do.
In 2014 Legislator Dave Donaldson and I proposed an amendment to the SUNY Ulster budget in order to stave off a $100-a-year tuition increase. The measure, thanks largely to the efforts of the county executive, was defeated. Not long after, Mr. Hein made his own deal.
It has become increasingly clear that this is how the county executive operates. Unless he, or one of his incredibly well-paid staff members, is the person who comes up with the idea, it’s a bad one and he works against it. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the next thing he’ll do is acknowledge that the most pressing health care issue facing Ulster County today is the heroin and opioid crisis. Or maybe he’ll remedy an indisputable inequality in the county and make the villages whole for delinquent taxes.
(Editor’s note: The writer is a legislator and former chairman of the Ulster County Legislature.)