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U.S. Government To Reimburse American Hospitals That Treat Airlifted Haitian Patients

“The federal government announced on Monday that it would reimburse American hospitals who treat Haitian earthquake victims with life-threatening injuries, making it possible for more hospitals in states outside Florida to consider taking those patients,” the New York Times reports.

HHS and USAID said patients whose injuries couldn’t be adequately treated in Haiti could be airlifted for treatment in American hospitals and that the federal government would pay the hospitals “110 percent of the rates paid for Medicare patients,” the newspaper writes. A joint statement from the agencies “said that the airlift was being reserved ‘for the rare patients with life-threatening conditions that cannot be handled within Haiti or by evacuation to another country.’ Haitian hospitals, emergency relief groups, and the United States Navy hospital ship Comfort would refer the patients for airlift,” who had a “reasonable chance” to survive the flight and subsequent treatment, the newspaper reports.

“The mechanism used for reimbursing hospitals, called the National Disaster Medical System, has been used in previous catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina. Hospitals, usually those with more than 100 beds in or near large cities, have entered into voluntary agreements to provide treatment under the plan,” according to the New York Times. The article also looks at how Florida’s capacity to handle patients from Haiti factored into the decision to activate the system and also suspend airlifts for a few days. Last week, Florida Governor Charlie Crist asked the Obama administration to help with costs and warned that “Florida’s health care system is quickly reaching saturation,” the newspaper reports (Baker/Berger, 2/1).

In Haiti, the USS Carl Vinson, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, will return to its homeport in San Diego “after delivering about 500 tons of humanitarian aid to victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake,” the Associated Press/Washington Post reports. After arriving at the Haitian coast three days after the earthquake, “[t]he ship’s personnel evacuated 435 patients needing medical attention and its 19 helicopters flew more than 1,000 hours to support the relief operation. Ten of those choppers will remain in Haiti” (2/1).

According to the Christian Science Monitor, this announcement by the Pentagon on Monday, signals a “turning point in the US military’s initial response to the earthquake last month.” The article examines the ship’s role in the U.S. response to the earthquake.

“The U.S. military, which already has its hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan, had responded substantively to the need in Haiti. But many in the Pentagon have been quietly asking about when operations could be handed over to the U.N. and other international relief groups,” the Christian Science Monitor writes, adding that the ship was the “largest U.S. naval contribution to relief efforts” (Lubold, 2/1).

In related news, Reuters looks into reports that Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, “will be named international coordinator for relief efforts in the earthquake-devastated country.” According to the news service, Clinton was “the most obvious choice” to coordinate reconstruction efforts in Haiti, said U.N. officials, “on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been formally announced.”

“‘The official announcement should come sometime this week,’ a U.N. official told Reuters. Another official said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would formally appoint Clinton, who would ‘represent the U.N. at the strategic level’ and coordinate aid, financial assistance and reconstruction” (Charbonneau, 2/1).

Earthquake Potential; Escaped Prisoners; Donation Pooling For Relief Efforts

On Monday, geologists warned that there is a reasonable probability that there will another significant earthquake in Haiti and that people should continue to sleep in tents to stay safe, the Miami Herald reports. “A report by the United States Geological Survey says the probability of an aftershock of magnitude 7 or greater in Haiti in the next 30 days is 3 percent, the probability of one magnitude 6 or greater is 25 percent, and of one magnitude 5 or greater is about 90 percent,” the Miami Herald writes (Tasker, 2/2).

In related news, the U.N.’s humanitarian office said a food convoy was attacked by an armed group at the Jeremie airport in southwest Haiti, according to the AP/New York Times. The U.N. said Haitian national police apprehended 33 escaped prisoners and are increasing patrols in an effort to prevent violence, but although the situation is ”stable,” it is “potentially volatile.” Elisabeth Byrs, a U.N. spokeswoman, said a few hundred prisoners, who escaped after a prison collapsed, are still believed to be free (2/2).

In light of the relief efforts after the Jan. 12 quake, the New York Times examines the possibility of using a U.S. donation pool to distribute funds in disaster situations. “Now, as the total giving for Haiti exceeds $560 million, relief workers and charitable groups are revisiting a fund-raising model – last seriously discussed after the 2004 Asian tsunami – to pool disaster donations across the United States and distribute them to organizations best placed to deliver relief. The push to consider a new approach is being driven in part by relief groups that feel eclipsed by the Red Cross and frustrated at being frozen out financially right when their expertise could be best put to use,” the New York Times writes (Strom, 2/1).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.