The Rural Hospital Care Act has a big impact in hospitals around the state but, locally, little can be said for its benefits.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, recently announced the introduction of the Rural Hospital Access Act of 2013. The bill reauthorizes Medicare-dependent hospitals and enhanced low-volume hospital programs, to ensure rural hospitals in the area continue to make high quality care available to patients. The programs will expire at the end of the year if Congress does not act.
"In the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes, so many of us depend on these rural hospitals for our own care, and for the care of our family members," Reed said. "It's vitally important to our communities that we stand up for our smaller hospitals to get them on a level playing field with larger ones, and get them the fair funding they need and deserve."
Reed's district has three Medicare-dependent hospitals: Corning Hospital, Ira Davenport, and St. Joseph's of Elmira. Medicare-dependent hospitals are defined as those with 100 beds or fewer for which Medicare patients make up at least 60 percent of inpatient or discharges.
The district is also home to three low-volume hospitals: Jones Memorial, Ira Daven-port, and St. James Mercy. To be considered low-volume, a hospital must be more than 15 road miles from another comparable hospital and have up to 1,600 Med-icare discharges annually.
Although the bill does not have any effect on hospitals in Chautauqua County, Betsy Wright, WCA Hospital president and chief executive officer, said the hospital is still supportive of it.
"The impact on WCA is zero," Wright said. "We didn't qualify for the Medicare-dependent hospital, or the low-volume previously. This bill extends those. So, we appreciate and support that initiative, but it does not have an effect on WCA."
Wright went on to say how much Reed has done for health care in general, which is part of the reason why WCA Hospital supports the legislation.
"We appreciate (Reed's) support of rural hospitals and all that he has done for health care," she said. "We think it's very important that this area is represented by someone on the Ways and Means Committee. Congressman Reed is doing a wonderful job for health care."
If legislation is not enacted to extend the programs, Reed said the rural hospitals would lose funding, making it difficult for them to serve their communities. Additionally, it would cost local jobs in the affected areas.
"That's why I'm leading the push to again reauthorize the Medicare-dependent hospital program and the enhanced low-volume Medicare adjustment for prospective payment system (PPS) hospitals and safeguard their funding adjustments."
Reed's bipartisan bill was cosponsored by Peter Welch, D-VT, in the House. It was also introduced in the Senate by Senators Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Chuck Grassley, R-IA.
If this bill does not pass, Medicare-dependent hospitals in New York will lose $6.6 million and low-volume hospitals will lose $11.1 million.
Reed introduced a similar bill last year to extend funding for these rural hospitals .