Congressman Gallego visits Culberson Hospital

By Jared Chanski, Culberson Hospital Administrator —

U.S. Representative Pete Gallego took time out of his busy schedule Monday to visit with representatives of Culberson Hospital and the Culberson County Hospital District (CCHD). “I always enjoy my visits to Van Horn, and take great pride in what this community has been able to accomplish,” said Mr. Gallego.

Edwin Easley, CCHD board chairman, John Clark, Laboratory Director, and Jared Chanski, hospital administrator, met with Gallego for almost two hours, discussing issues facing the county as well as the hospital. “We are very concerned that Congress does not understand the impact Medicare Advantage plans, promoted by the U.S. government, could have on patients and hospitals in small communities like Van Horn,” noted Easley.

“Medicare Advantage plans are commercial insurance plans,” explained Chanski. “Once patients enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, they are no longer enrolled in Medicare and often discover they have to comply with a new set of rules about which physicians and hospitals they can use. In addition, they may be denied coverage for certain services. This means that local residents may not be able to use our local physicians or hospital without additional out-of-pocket costs.”

According to staff, Culberson Hospital is experiencing an increase in patients that are coming to the hospital or clinic and do not realize they have changed their coverage from traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.

“The name Medicare Advantage is confusing to patients because they often assume it is a supplement to Medicare,” noted Chanski. “If a patient has a Medicare Advantage Plan, they cannot be sold a supplemental plan and cannot use a supplemental plan available through a spouse. This means the patient is responsible for all deductibles and copayments established by the Medicare Advantage plan.”

Also of concern the CCHD is the impact of Medicare Advantage on the debt obligations of the CCHD. “Since these patients are no longer Medicare patients, they reduce the hospital’s Medicare reimbursement,” said Easley. “This is of great concern to the CCHD board and the community since any declines in Medicare reimbursement means there is less money available to help the CCHD repay the bonds issued to construct the new hospital addition and could result in higher taxes.”

Gallego understands the issues faced by small communities and rural hospitals well and assured those present that he is acting as their advocate in Washington. He explained that earlier in the week he had met with TORCH (Texas Organization of Rural Community Hospitals) to help formulate a message that would more effectively reach the congressmen and senators of more urban areas. ‘Having grown up in nearby Alpine, I am very aware of the impact a hospital can have on the local community,’ noted Gallego. His fear is that constituents of larger urban areas do not appreciate the essential contribution made by rural hospital facilities.

Gallego assured Easley and those present that he is doing everything in his power to convey how vital the services of Culberson Hospital are, not only to local citizens but to the tens of thousands of people traveling Interstate 10 on a daily basis.

Gallego has been the U.S. Representative for Texas’s 23rd congressional district since 2013. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives from the 74th District beginning in 1991. No stranger to Culberson, Gallego was present for the grand opening of the newly constructed hospital in 2010 and donated the Texas state flag that hangs in the breezeway connecting the facilities.