August 19, 2008

Manchin to Review New Rule on Elective Heart Surgeries


CHARLESTON - Gov. Joe Manchin is reviewing a rule that will help determine when some patients can have angioplasty at medium-sized West Virginia hospitals.

The original rule would have barred elective angioplasties at some hospitals if the patient was within an hour's drive of a hospital with a heart surgery facility.

Some hospitals, like Raleigh General in Beckley, argued that drive time is a deceptive measure, since traffic lights and other obstacles may delay a trip that would take an hour under optimum conditions.

The state Health Care Authority said the new rule uses the language "medical transport time," which includes patient preparation and other factors besides time on the road.

"That is what it should have been to begin with," said Karen Bowling, chief executive officer of Raleigh General.

Manchin's spokeswoman, Lara Ramsburg, said the governor has until Sept. 5 to make a final decision on a proposed revision that would clarify the rule.

"Obviously, we want to get to it as fast as we can," she said.

Manchin's legal team is reviewing the proposal, and Ramsburg said the governor may make a decision as early as next week.

West Virginia hospitals have been participating in a five-year demonstration project involving both primary angioplasty, done when a patient is in crisis, and elective angioplasty, which is more preventive. Angioplasty can relieve symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, and can be used during a heart attack to quickly open an artery and minimize damage.

Earlier this year, the Health Care Authority agreed to allow primary angioplasty at a greater number of hospitals. and allow elective angioplasty under a more restrictive review process.

The change had been backed by a number of medium-sized hospitals in the state, although larger hospitals that already had heart surgery facilities criticized the decision.

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