Carbon County commissioners on Thursday helped ensure the health and well-being of all county residents, including those who are struggling in these tough economic times.

The commissioners ratified a letter of agreement with the Gnaden Huetten campus of Blue Mountain Health System that "acknowledges the commitment of the hospital to provide health care services to low-income individuals who are not entitled to Medicare or Medicaid benefits at no reimbursement, or considerably less reimbursement."

"It's just simply an acknowledgment by the county that the hospital is committed to this program under the Public Health Service Act," said solicitor Daniel A. Miscavige.

All three commissioners Chairman Wayne Nothstein, Thomas Gerhard and William O'Gurek voted in favor of ratifying the agreement.

O'Gurek explained the program, called the 304B Drug Pricing program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"To be eligible to participate in that program, you need to be an entity that's called a 'disproportionate share' hospital or clinic. Gnaden Huetten qualifies as a disproportionate share hospital, because they serve an unusual number of low-income patients, and they receive payments through Medicare or Medicaid to cover the cost of that care, and the cost of care for uninsured people," he said.

Because Gnaden Huetten is eligible, it wants to participate in the joint pricing program so they can get a discount on prescription drugs, O'Gurek said.

He said he read about the deeply complex discount program, which involved a formula involving the numbers of uninsured patient days.

"It's very complicated," he said.

O'Gurek said the hospital must comply with auditing and reporting requirements.

"We're glad to participate by designating Gnaden Huetten Hospital as a disproportionate share hospital, because we recognize that they serve uninsured people," he said. 'We're glad to be able to help Gnaden Huetten. The Department of Health and Human Services makes this funding available through the Social Security Act, and it's basically to stretch the limited amount of resources that are available to provide more help," he said.

"Caring for our community is the mission of the Blue Mountain Health System, and the drug discount program would allow us to provide that care at an even better cost to the health system," said BMHS spokeswoman Lisa Johnson, contacted after the public commissioners' meeting.

"It's definitely going to help them financially," Nothstein said. "You've got to recognize that the hospital is one of the biggest employers in the county. It helps them keep people employed."