Senate Passes Bennet, Grassley, Murkowski, Moran Bill to Help Rural Hospitals in Sparsely Populated States

Washington, D.C. - The Senate this week passed a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) and fellow senators to extend a Medicare demonstration program that helps rural hospitals in sparsely populated states keep their doors open.

"This demonstration has helped several hospitals in Colorado's rural communities, like Delta County, Steamboat Springs, and Sterling, continue to serve their communities," Bennet said. "This bill will help maintain access to critical health care services in these rural areas."

"By extending the demonstration for five more years, this bill allows medium-sized Iowa hospitals participating in the demonstration to continue to seek out opportunities to expand and improve health services needed in their rural communities," Grassley said.

"This Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program has helped Alaskans in Soldotna, Juneau and Sitka," Murkowski said. "It's important we give these facilities a bit more time to provide care trying a different financial approach and seeing how it works for our smaller communities."

"Making certain Kansans have access to quality health care in their home communities is one of my top priorities," Moran said. "To preserve medical access for Kansans and strengthen rural communities, health care professionals must receive appropriate reimbursement for the care they provide."

The Senate approved the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Extension Act of 2015 without objection. The bill has 14 Senate co-sponsors. A related bill is pending in the House of Representatives.

Colorado has three participating hospitals, including Delta County Memorial Hospital in Delta, Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, and Sterling Regional MedCenter in Sterling.

"Colorado is proud to have three rural hospitals participating in this important project," said Steven Summer CEO of the Colorado Hospital Association. "The challenges facing rural health care facilities have never been greater. Finding new models for providing care and improving overall health in rural areas is paramount to our future. We thank Senator Bennet for his leadership in ensuring that this crucial effort is renewed."

"This is an encouraging step forward to create financial viability for rural hospitals to provide access to quality care in rural Colorado," said Jason Cleckler, CEO of Delta County Memorial Hospital.

"This bill provides Yampa Valley Medical Center a stable, predictable reimbursement level instead of the uncertainty that can come with Medicare payments," said Frank May, CEO of Yampa Valley Medical Center. "Senator Bennet's leadership on this issue is important for hospitals serving communities like ours."

"The legislation will help our patients continue to access Sterling Regional MedCenter and provide us with the stability we need to continue providing high quality care," said Jeff Shelton, CEO of Sterling Regional MedCenter. "We thank Senator Bennet for his efforts on this legislation to help our hospital and community."

Initiated in 2004, the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program is a five-year program created to help rural hospitals in the country's 10 most sparsely populated states. The program was renewed for another five years in 2010 and expanded to include 20 of the most sparsely populated states. This program provides participating hospitals and tests the feasibility and advisability of a cost-based payment model for acute-care inpatient services.

Eligible hospitals must be located in a rural area and within one of the 20 most sparsely populated states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming); must have fewer than 51 inpatient beds; must offer 24-hour emergency care services; and are not eligible for designation as a Community Access Hospital.

Approximately 35 hospitals have participated in this program since its inception. Currently, there are 23 hospitals participating in the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program.