Senators Introduce Legislation to Extend Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program

Provides Greater Certainty for Small, Rural Hospitals

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) today introduced legislation to extend the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program for an additional 5 years, ensuring these essential hospitals do not face further budget instability during such challenging times. Companion legislation to the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Extension Act of 2020 was introduced today by Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer (D-IA) and Representative Don Young (R-AK) in the House of Representatives.

The Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program began in 2004 as a five-year demonstration project, and was extended in 2009 and again in 2016. The program, which reimburses hospitals in small, rural communities that are too large to be designated as Critical access Hospitals (CAHs), has a rolling participation period. Without action from Congress, the program will expire for all participating hospitals between 2020 and 2021. A number of hospitals, including multiple in Alaska are set to fall out of the program beginning as early as this summer, during a particularly challenging time for hospitals.

“Overcoming the challenges of providing healthcare in Alaska—particularly our small, rural communities—is no easy task. Adding to the existing challenges of providing access to quality, affordable care—hospitals will be falling out of this program as they deal with the COVID-19 crisis and are already managing unstable financial footing. This legislation will create stability in reimbursement structures and allow hospitals to remain in the program until the participation periods for all hospitals end,” said Senator Murkowski. “As we continue our efforts to keep Alaskans safe and healthy, we must do all we can to provide certainty for our hospitals and healthcare facilities.” 

“Rural America can’t exist without rural hospitals – and rural hospitals have been ringing the alarm since well before this crisis. And now, their challenges are only magnified as they’ve been left trying to manage this unprecedented crisis,” said Senator Bennet. “The CMS Rural Community Hospital Demonstration program has been critical in five rural communities in Colorado alone that would not have been able to provide services without the program funds.  Extending and expanding this demo program is a commonsense solution to provide stability in communities that only recently recovered from the Great Recession. We must continue to fight for these hospitals to ensure they receive the support and resources they need to continue to serve Americans living in rural communities.”

“Alaska has many incredible, state-of-the-art hospitals tasked with caring for people in some of the most remote and geographically-diverse corners of the country,” said Senator Sullivan. “The Rural Community Health Demonstration program offers crucial support to these institutions, especially as they work to meet the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. I’m glad to join Senator Murkowski in helping to bolster our rural hospitals and ensure they are equipped to provide for those in the community.”

“The American Hospital Association is pleased to support Senators Murkowski, Bennet and Sullivan's Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Extension Act of 2020,” said American Hospital Association Executive Vice President Tom Nickels. “Rural hospitals are the cornerstones of their communities, providing access to care for patients close to home and supporting the local economy. By extending the demonstration for five more years, the legislation will ensure that the Rural Community Hospital program continues to help maintain access to care for patients by allowing hospitals to expand and improve the services their communities need.”


  • In Alaska, Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna and Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau are falling out of the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration program in the summer of 2020.

Related Issues: Health, Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska