Pendleton, OR -

A federal budget-cutting proposal threatens to reduce Medicare payments to 15 rural Oregon hospitals. Hospital and state officials say it could threaten their futures.

The East Oregonian reports the proposal involves what are considered "critical access hospitals" that get higher Medicaid payments under a program started in 1997 amid a wave of hospital closures in rural America.

Oregon has 25 of the critical access hospitals. Fifteen are within 15 to 35 miles of another hospital, which is why their payments are threatened.

Until 2006, they were exempted from a limit on hospitals not considered sufficiently remote for the higher payments.

Now, a recommendation from the inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would end that exception.

It would affect about 850 hospitals nationally.