WHIDBEY: Murray and Larsen Help Secure Major Victory for Military Personnel, Military Retirees, and their Families at Whidbey General Hospital

Sep 11 2009

After years of pushing for increased TRICARE payments to rural hospitals serving military personnel and their families, Murray and Larsen's efforts result in federal rule change that will assist Whidbey General

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA 2nd) announced that they have successfully worked to help change a federal regulation that will assist Whidbey General Hospital in Coupeville, WA in continuing to treat military personnel, military retirees and their families. The rule change Murray and Larsen fought to help bring about will require TRICARE – the military’s medical benefit program – to increase federal reimbursement payments for medical services to a level similar to that of Medicare. The new rule means that Whidbey General and other Critical Access Hospitals, which receive reimbursements for military care at a lower rate, will be able to provide continued access to care. The rule change was recently published in the federal register.

“This is a big victory not only for Whidbey military families, but also for Whidbey General and Critical Access Hospitals everywhere that have been providing care without the reimbursement they deserve,” said Senator Murray. “Access to quality care for those who’ve served should never be in doubt. This rule change means that in areas where rural hospitals are the only option, the needs of our military personnel, veterans and their families will be served.”

“This rule change means the doors of Whidbey General will continue to be open to our local military personnel and their families,” said Congressman Larsen. “The community has been waiting for this, Whidbey General has been waiting for this, and our efforts have finally paid off. I will continue to work to meet the needs of the military men and women who call Whidbey home.

“I would like to thank Congressman Larsen and Senator Murray for their tireless efforts in ensuring the finalization of the Tricare Critical Access Hospital rule, allowing us to continue to deliver the highest quality healthcare to our military population,” said Tom Tomasino , Chief Executive Officer of Whidbey General Hospital.

Whidbey General serves a large portion of military service members, military retirees and their families on Whidbey Island. With the October 2007 reduction of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s emergency care services, Whidbey General has been increasingly relied upon to provide the military community with the care they need. However, because TRICARE reimbursement levels have been lower than other rates the added patient load has placed a strain on Whidbey General.

The situation facing Whidbey General and other Critical Access Hospitals prompted Senator Murray and Congressman Larsen to contact Defense Secretary Robert Gates on January 31st, 2008. Congressman Larsen also contacted the Office of Management and Budget on March 21st, 2008 andSecretary Gates a second time on March 23rd, 2009.

The rule change was cleared by the Department of Defense earlier this year, reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and officially published in the federal register on August, 31st 2009.

"I am very pleased that this rate increase ensures that our nation's deserving TRICARE beneficiaries will continue to receive quality health care from Critical Access Hospitals in rural areas all across the West, and appreciate the hospitals and staff that continue to serve them so capably," said David J. McIntyre, Jr., President & CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance.