Bill to Support Hospitals in Smaller Communities Passes Senate

Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski today thanked their colleagues for passing S. 607, a bill they cosponsored that was introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), which extends the Medicare Rural Community Hospital (RCH) Demonstration Program.

“This Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program provides vital care for many Alaskans in more remote communities where the next closest hospital may be 100 or more miles away,” said Senator Murkowski. “This program has helped hospitals in sparsely populated states keep their doors open and has truly made a big impact in smaller communities in our state. Programs like this are essential to preserving our Alaska lifestyle, and I’m pleased to see that my Senate colleagues recognized the importance of this valuable program.”

“The RCH demo programs are critical for the bottom line of health care institutions serving smaller populations, like the Kenai Peninsula and Juneau,” said Senator Sullivan. “The program has allowed several Alaska hospitals to expand critical services, purchase needed technology and equipment, and attract new physicians, stabilizing health services in large regions of Alaska. Thanks to the Senate’s action, these hospitals can continue improving care for Alaskans.”

The RCH demonstration program reimburses rural hospitals with only 25 – 51 acute care beds for providing inpatient services to Medicare patients. The program, which began in 2003 as a five-year demo project, was extended another five years in 2009, but failed to be extended in 2015. Alaska’s three participating hospitals–Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna; Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau; and SEARHC Mt. Edgecumbe of Sitka–lost funding in 2015.

Since the RCH program lapsed, SEARHC changed its classification to a “Critical Access Hospital,” which better serves its reimbursement needs. Central Peninsula and Bartlett Regional are seeking reauthorization of the RCH program.

Below are statements from the CEOs of Central Peninsula and Bartlett Regional Hospitals about the Senate’s passage of S. 607:

“Central Peninsula Hospital is appreciative the Senate has acted to extend the Rural Community Hospital demonstration program today,” said Rick Davis, CEO of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska. “Three hospitals in Alaska have participated in this program. The program ended for CPH on June 30, 2015 before Congress could reauthorize it.  I am grateful and appreciate the effort our Congressional delegation has dedicated towards getting us one step closer to reauthorizing this crucial program for CPH and other participating hospitals.”

“On behalf of Bartlett Regional Hospital, I want to thank Senators Sullivan and Murkowski for their leadership in cosponsoring this bill extending the Rural Hospital Medicare Demonstration project,” said Chuck Bill, CEO of Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau, Alaska. “This program provides improved reimbursement for our growing Medicare population and is a crucial factor in the hospital’s financial viability. I am confident that Congressman Young will be equally successful in the House.”