Patients watch high fuel prices pinch health care

doctor wears a stethoscope
Patients in the remote, rural areas of South Dakota are the first ones to see services cut.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services asking for the investigation. Johnson said he is concerned that sky rocketing fuel prices coupled with proposed budget cuts will put lives at risk.

Johnson says home health agencies in South Dakota would lose more than $18 million over five years under the president's proposed budget.

"Home Health Care is a cost effective way to care for seniors and I would hate to see these vital services disappear do to rising gas prices and budget Bush administration cuts," Johnson said.

Johnson said patients in the remote, rural areas of South Dakota are the first ones to see services cut.

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Robert Dockter is the director of health services in the small town of Eureka, an hour northwest of Aberdeen. Dockter said fuel expenses have increased almost four dollars per visit from more than a year ago.

He said they have had to cut back staff and limit how far nurses and aids can drive for a call. He said home health care is vital at a time when the trend is to let patients out of the hospital as soon as possible.

"We have to take care of these people that are in need in their home setting or unfortunately they will end up back in the hospital and we all know that's a higher bill than we'd be paying for home health services," Dockter said.

Dockter said home health reimbursement is based on a fixed rate and does not increase with expenses.