WARWICK, R.I. (AP) — Four Rhode Island hospitals on Monday celebrated news that the federal government will pay them more money to care for patients on Medicare.

Kent Hospital, South County Hospital, Newport Hospital and Westerly Hospital will collectively receive about $7.1 million more for the 2013 fiscal year after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services increased their Medicare reimbursement rates. Previously, different hospitals in the state had three different reimbursement rates, so hospitals in some cases just a few minutes' drive from each other were paid differently. Hospital officials say that created problems retaining the best workers.

Dennis Keefe, president and CEO of Care New England, which operates Kent Hospital, called the money "a lifeline" during a news conference at the hospital.

"This is an incredible lift. This is a huge outcome," he said.

Kent Hospital will see an additional $3.26 million in Medicare reimbursements for the year, according to the office of Sen. Jack Reed.

Reed said the previous system put too much weight on county lines, which doesn't make sense in the nation's smallest state. Some hospitals were reimbursed as if they were in the Boston market, others as if they were in Connecticut.

"You have to look at the reality in Rhode Island," Reed said.

Rep. Jim Langevin said under the old system, providers could move across the border to Massachusetts and be paid at a higher rate. The change means hospitals here can offer providers the same pay rate.

The reimbursement rate will increase about 8 percent, said Edward Quinlan of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, which lobbied hard for the change.

The change will level the playing field for community hospitals in Rhode Island, said August Cordeiro, president and CEO of Newport Hospital.

"It will help Newport Hospital remain viable, enabling us to continue to meet the health care needs of all the residents of Newport County for years to come," he said.