Press-Republican

March 13, 2013

Border, Medicare among local sequester concerns

By DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Medicare reimbursements and cross-border travel are two main local concerns about federal sequester cuts.

Those funding decreases went into effect March 1 under the provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The across-the-board spending cuts were to take place Jan. 1 but were postponed during the fiscal-cliff negotiations.

Local hospitals and doctors will face a 2 percent reduction in their Medicare reimbursements, scheduled to start April 1.

CVPH Director of Public Relations Mike Hildebran said on Tuesday that if the impact of sequestration is limited to the expected 2 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement, as is planned, it will cost CVPH about $1.6 million this year. 

However, hospital officials anticipated that might occur and included that amount in its 2013 budget, though still hoping the cut might not take place.

“Over the year, (if the cuts don’t happen) that would mean our reimbursement for Medicare services would be approximately $133,000 more per month than anticipated,” Hildebran said by email. “Since it costs more than $800,000 a day to run CVPH, that would be nice but not exactly like someone winning the lottery.”

‘TOO SOON TO KNOW’

Adirondack Health spokesman Joe Riccio said they are facing about $500,000 in revenue reduction this year under sequestration. 

That, he said, is in addition to the $1.2 million in revenue decreases that resulted from the fiscal-cliff negotiations.

Riccio said it is too soon to know if that would result in job losses or service cuts.

“(But), we are currently conducting a broad evaluation of all aspects of Adirondack Health to ensure we can continue providing high-quality, patient-centered care to the Tri-Lakes region of northern New York,” he said by email.

U.S. BORDER ISSUES

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection arm has posted a number of fact sheets on its website about the impacts of sequestration. The information includes a letter dated March 2 from Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar to representatives of trade- and travel-industry groups.

The agency is facing significant cuts to its operating budget and programs. That also includes employee furloughs, overtime reductions and a hiring freeze, a decrease in staffing hours that equates to the loss of several thousand employees at ports of entry throughout the United States.

The agency’s leaders have warned of delays for commercial shipments and travelers as the furloughs take effect. 

North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said he spoke with officials about the issue.

“I’ve been assured by officials at Customs and Border Protection that the effect should be minimal (locally),” he said.

‘MAINLY OFF-PEAK HOURS’

Furlough notices went out starting last week, but the decrease in staffing isn’t expected to start until sometime in early April. If a compromise isn’t reached, those would continue into the peak summer travel season.

Customs and Border Protection intends to focus on some key priorities. That includes its mission to provide security from terrorists, meet legal requirements for inspection of cross-border shipments and an emphasis on programs such as NEXUS for travelers and SENTRI and FAST for commercial shipments.

Douglas said department officials know when traffic peaks and plan to schedule accordingly. The Port of Excellence project at Champlain resulted in a new commercial inspection area that opened in 2007 and a passenger-vehicle inspection area that opened in 2008.

That drastically increased resources, including about twice as many staff. Douglas said the furloughs could mainly affect off-peak hours, with possibly fewer inspection lanes open.

DELAYED EFFECT

Congressman Bill Owens said the major impact of sequestration isn’t likely to be felt until 45 to 90 days. In speaking with people who work at the border, most believe management and officers will be the first to be impacted.

That is likely to be followed by a ripple effect through the local economy, as they reduce their spending.

“I think we will see pain at every level, and then it will be up to the public as to how they respond to it,” Owens said.

He said the House passed a continuing resolution last week that included provisions that would allow the U.S. Department of Defense more flexibility in how sequester cuts are made. It also makes accommodations to allow Customs and Border Protection to maintain current staffing levels.

The Senate is working on a similar bill that would do the same for the departments of Agriculture, Justice, Commerce, Homeland Security and Food and Drug Administration.

If passed, the two resolutions would need to be reconciled into a final bill.

Email Dan Heathdheath@pressrepublican.com