UConn could get big boost from Dodd amendment

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., center, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington following a series of Senate votes on Tuesday.

Late in the negotiations for the Senate version of the health care reform bill, Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd worked to add a provision that could help the University of Connecticut partially fund the new hospital it has been seeking to replace the antiquated John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington.

Dodd, chairman of the Banking Committee and a senior member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, is facing stiff competition for re-election in November. He introduced the amendment to the main bill, designed to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and enact other reforms, that passed its second test vote in the Senate on party lines Tuesday.

Dodd's amendment would allocate $100 million to build a university hospital that conducts research and has inpatient and outpatient services, criteria met by the UConn hospital and 11 others at public universities across the country, according to Dodd spokesman Bryan DeAngelis.

The federal funds would be distributed as a grant that would be administered by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which would also decide which of the eligible public universities would receive all or part of the $100 million. The grant could cover no more than 40 percent of the total cost of the new hospital.

"These provisions will bring millions of dollars to the state so that Connecticut's residents can receive quality, affordable health care," Dodd said in a statement, referring to the university hospital measure and to others he added that would benefit community health centers and Medicaid and SAGA recipients and increase Medicare payments to hospitals.

DeAngelis provided a list Tuesday of the 11 other public universities with medical schools and hospitals that would be eligible to apply for the grant. It includes Indiana University, the University of Colorado, the University of Iowa, the University of Maryland, the University of Minnesota Medical Center and the University of Mississippi.

In response to a request for comment on the amendment, UConn issued a statement from university President Michael Hogan.

"We very much appreciate Sen. Dodd's willingness to offer up this proposal and we can't thank him enough for all his hard work on behalf of the state and the University of Connecticut," Hogan said. "We are currently looking at the language in the bill and are hopeful that this will become law so that we can apply for the grant. Without question, UConn has a compelling case to make for awarding this funding to our institution.

"All of us want to bring resources to Connecticut that improve the quality of health care and increase access to care in our state."

UConn has been seeking a new, $475 million hospital to replace its aging 224-bed facility in Farmington, which had a $12 million deficit in 2008. A new hospital is seen as key to UConn's and the state's ability to attract and retain medical and dental students as well as doctors, dentists and other health professionals.

The current hospital also provides specialty and dental care to many of the state's uninsured as well as those with Medicaid, HUSKY, SAGA or other government insurance that some private hospitals and dentists don't accept because of low reimbursement rates.

A proposal announced a year ago to merge management of the UConn hospital with Hartford Hospital is "not on the table anymore," UConn health center spokeswoman Carolyn Pennington said Tuesday.

UConn's board of trustees is developing a new proposal that it hopes to submit to the General Assembly in the 2010 session, Pennington said.

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