County Judge, Veronica Escobar

  • El Paso officials lobby in Washington
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  • By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
  • AUSTIN -- El Paso County officials were in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and Thursday hoping to persuade Congress to stop federal rules that could cost public hospitals, including Thomason Hospital, millions. 

  • Thomason CEO Jim Valenti, El Paso County Attorney José Rodríguez and El Paso County Commissioner Veronica Escobar headed to Capitol Hill the day after the Thomason hospital board approved joining a lawsuit that also seeks to prevent the rules officials say would cost Thomason more than $20 million.

  • "We're very proactive, and we're trying all strategies to protect El Paso," Valenti said in a phone interview from Washington.

  • The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, is set to implement a regulation that would limit the amount hospitals are paid for services to Medicaid and Medicare patients.

  • Last year, Congress enacted a one-year moratorium on the rule; the moratorium will expire May 25.

  • Valenti said El Paso leaders asked lawmakers to extend the moratorium so that Thomason and other hospitals don't have to consider major cuts to health-care services.

  • If enacted, the rule would cost Thomason at least $23 million of the $47 million federal allotment it is set to receive next year, Valenti said.

  • But if lawmakers don't extend the moratorium, Thomason, several other hospitals and four national medical associations have taken legal action they hope will prevent up to $5 billion in cuts at health facilities nationwide.

  • "The lawsuit basically contends (CMS) didn't have the authority to pass the regulations," Rodríguez said.

  • The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent CMS from implementing the rule.

  • CMS spokesman Jeff Nelligan said the rule was intended to ensure that both the federal and state governments pay their share of Medicaid costs.

  • He pointed to Government Accountability Office reports dating back to 1994 that recommend congressional action to limit federal Medicaid payments.

  • "The fact is, the purpose of the cost rule is to preserve the integrity of the Medicaid partnership, in which the federal government and the states share the financial obligations for serving people who rely on this important program," Nelligan said.

  • In a city like El Paso, where one in three residents lacks health insurance, federal funding cuts could be devastating, Escobar said.

  • Taxpayers would probably bear the burden of filling the gap in health services through increased local property taxes, she said.

  • "We're trying to carve out a very prosperous destiny for El Paso," Escobar said, "but we can't do that if they pull the rug out from underneath us and severely cut our budget."

  • Brandi Grissom may be reached at bgrissom@elpasotimes.com 512-479-6606.


  • County Judge
    Veronica Escobar