(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke about Medicare at a hearing with Thomas Scully, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Washington state residents - especially seniors - are having serious problems getting access to healthcare. Many doctors are retiring early, leaving Washington state or refusing to see Medicare patients. For several years, Murray has been working to make Medicare payments more fair to Washington state, which ranks 42nd in the nation in Medicare reimbursements per beneficiary. Last year, Murray wrote and introduced the MediFair Act to address this inequity.

Today, Murray spoke with Scully as he testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS.

Senator Murray's opening remarks follow:

"Mr. Chairman, I am very grateful for the Chairman's willingness to schedule this hearing. I recognize that Medicare is not under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee, however, as many of us know we often have to deal with the reimbursement problems.

Many hospitals come to us for increased funding on the discretionary side or for earmarks to make up for the shortfalls in Medicare reimbursement.

My state faces a particularly difficult situation when it comes to Medicare reimbursement for physicians and hospitals. While all doctors experienced a 5.4% reduction in their fee schedule for 2002 and may face additional reductions, doctors in Washington state have been treated unfairly for years.

Doctors and hospitals in my state get far less per beneficiary than most states. In fact, Washington state ranks 42nd in the nation in Medicare payments per beneficiary.

Despite these lower payments, my providers still have to compete in a highly competitive health care arena.

Hospitals in Washington state have the same technology costs as hospitals in Florida or Louisiana, yet they receive significantly less in reimbursements.

I have been working for several years with Senator Harkin to address this inequity. I have introduced the Medifair Act, which would guarantee that no state receives less than the national average per beneficiary cost.

My legislation also includes a mechanism for the Secretary to evaluate outcomes and work with those states that have some of the highest costs. My intent is not to reduce payments for those higher cost states but rather to work to implement healthy, cost-effective practices.

I am pleased that the Senate-passed Omnibus Appropriations bill begins to address the rural/urban inequity. However, much more needs to be done. Seniors in Washington state simply do not have access to the same Medicare program or benefits as seniors in Florida or New York.

It's especially frustrating for my state - because the reason we're at the bottom of the list is because we've done the right things and are highly efficient.

We have lower utilization rates and higher rates of efficiency than other states. Washington's seniors and health care providers have done the right things, yet every year they are penalized.

The incentives are backwards. This has to change. We should not be rewarding and encouraging inefficiency and costly health care decisions.

I will continue to work to eliminate the inequities that are having serious economic and health care impacts in my state.

Hospitals and physicians have little choice but to pass the shortfall in Medicare on to private insurance - driving up the cost for employers and workers.

I can tell you that there is little flexibility remaining to shift costs to private insurance plans. This shift only increases the cost of health insurance pushing more people into the ranks of the uninsured.

Senior citizens in Washington state deserve access to the same Medicare program and benefits as seniors in any other state."