MONTICELLO — Meeting with officials at the new $22 million Kirby Medical Center in Monticello, Democratic congressional candidate David Gill said that a budget proposal supported by his Republican opponent would harm such critical-access hospitals.
There are nine critical-access hospitals in the 13th Congressional District and the budget proposal advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would threaten their existence, Gill said Tuesday.
"It would reduce funding for Medicare and Medicaid and it aims to turn Medicare into a voucher program in which you no longer see direct payments from Uncle Sam to places like this," Gill said. "There are 1,300 hospitals like this all around the country and it would have a dramatic impact. It's not just political hyperbole."
Gill, still working as a part-time emergency-room physician at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, said he already had visited seven of the critical-access hospitals, defined as operating in rural areas and having fewer than 25 beds, in the 13th District.
"I know just how important these facilities are with respect to keeping people alive as well as serving as economic engines for smaller communities like Monticello and Litchfield and Carrollton and Taylorville," Gill said. "The reason we're trying to shine a light on these places is that the Paul Ryan budget that has been proposed and which my opponent has offered praise for spells tremendous trouble and perhaps even a death blow for critical-access hospitals."
Gill said the critical-access hospitals, of which there are 51 in Illinois, are heavily dependent upon federal funding.
Patrick Pfingsten, a spokesman for Taylorville Republican Rodney Davis, said that Davis "understands the value of critical access hospitals all across the district. His family is served by one in his hometown, and his wife, Shannon, was formerly a nurse there."
Pfingsten noted that President Barack Obama's budget proposed cuts to critical-access hospitals.
"The federal government now is looking at putting in place something that would eliminate them if they're within 10 miles of another critical-access hospital," Gill said. "That's a direct threat to Litchfield and Hillsboro."
That change would save as much as $4 billion a year, the Obama administration estimated.
Pfingsten also said that Gill has stated that while he would not have voted for Obama's Affordable Care Act, he would vote against repealing it.
"David Gill says Obamacare should not have been repealed, which will cost $2.6 trillion and raises taxes by $675 billion. He also wants to go farther with a radical, single-payer health care system that he admits would raise taxes and would cost another trillion dollars on top of Obamacare," Pfingsten said.
Gill said that enacting the Paul Ryan budget would mean "tremendous problems" for many rural hospitals.
"It means people being laid off, people having to drive an extra 30 or 40 minutes while they are having a heart attack. We just want to make sure people understand what the issue is here," Gill said.
The new Kirby Medical Center, which opened last Sept. 30, employs about 250 people and contributes $10 million annually in wages and benefits to Piatt County, said Steve Tenhouse, the hospitals's CEO. Gill called the facility "a jewel."
"When I get to Washington, if I have the good fortune to win this thing on November 6, you'll have a voice standing strong and proud on your behalf," Gill told a gathering of Kirby officials.
The critical-access-hospital initiative, created by Congress in 1997, "is a wonderful program," Gill said. "I think it's a program we should continue to raise up strong and healthy because it's vital for communities like this."