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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., along with Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., introduced a bill this week that would increase federal funding for hospitals that serve poor and uninsured patients.

The Medicaid Safety Net Hospital Improvement Act, S. 776, would provide for an increase in Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funding for fifteen states considered to be "extremely low-DSH states."

DSH funding is allotted to each state to help cover some of the cost of hospital services for those hospitals that serve a large number of uninsured, Medicaid or indigent patients.

"These hospitals are an important part of the health care safety net and will be even more heavily relied upon if the number of uninsured patients grows," said Enzi.

Currently, Wyoming receives a DSH allotment of nearly 1 percent of the state's overall Medicaid program costs. The national average is 9 percent of overall program costs.

Under the bill, Wyoming's DSH allotment would go from 1 percent to 3 percent of overall program costs, which would equal an increase from about $2 million to more than $6 million.

"Wyoming hospitals are in need of the funding this legislation would provide. I can't emphasize enough the help increased DSH funding would provide for our state," said Enzi.

According to a Wyoming Department of Health 1999 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Report, nearly 17 percent of Wyoming adults do not have health insurance, which is the 11th highest rate in the country.

"There are families in Wyoming that are not receiving regular health care. When a medical emergency arises they are likely to depend on the safety net for care," said Enzi.

Lander and Afton/Star Valley are examples of communities with hospitals that have consistently received this funding.

The bill will be referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

Enzi supports other healthcare improvement measures

Enzi, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the committee will soon consider the reauthorization of other legislation that would benefit the state.

The committee will soon consider the reauthorization of the National Health Service Corps and the Consolidated Community Health Centers programs.

The National Health Service Corps provides loan repayment or scholarships to health care professionals that commit to working in under-served communities. Enzi said the legislation would help Wyoming address the shortage of health professionals. Mental health providers and pharmacists, in particular, are needed.

The other part of the reauthorization, the Consolidated Community Health Centers programs, provides funding for the operation and establishment of facilities in under-served communities.

Enzi also plans to introduce a bill to require higher priority funding for rural applicants.