Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Stefanik and Congressman Delgado (D-NY) introduced the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act, legislation to ensure financially vulnerable rural hospitals are not at-risk of losing their Critical Access Hospital designation over an administrative policy change. The Critical Access Hospital designation provides hospitals enhanced reimbursement rates to keep essential healthcare services in rural communities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented all of our North Country hospitals with challenges, but the challenges our rural hospitals face are unique,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure rural hospitals do not lose their Critical Access Hospital designation, which provides a financial lifeline for hospitals to maintain essential healthcare services for patients in rural communities. I’ve worked directly with CMS on this issue and am glad they have paused recertifications to review their policy change, however our rural hospitals need certainty during this unprecedented time. I am the number one advocate for our North Country hospitals and will continue to work and advocate on their behalf to meet the unique challenges they face.”

“As rural hospitals continue to struggle and close across the country, the National Rural Health Association strongly supports this bill to protect Critical Access Hospitals,” said Alan Morgan, CEO, National Rural Health Association. “Ensuring that these vital hospitals are able to maintain their payment status could not be more critical during this pandemic.”

“Congress created the Critical Access Hospital designation through the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 in response to rural hospital closures during the 1980s and early 1990s,” Gerald R. Cayer, MPH, CEO. Lewis County General Hospital. “Critical Access Hospitals, such as Lewis County General Hospital, provide access to vital health care services and serves as the foundation for the local rural health care delivery system.  The Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 has demonstrated the important role of the Critical Access Hospital is supporting community health education, access to primary care and COVID-19 Clinics, and access to emergency services and acute beds.  Also, access to local health care is vitally important to the Lewis County economy and ongoing economic development activities where retaining or recruiting businesses are significantly influenced by the availability of quality healthcare.  Congresswoman Stefanik's introduction of the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act will address an administrative policy change that would negatively impact the Critical Access Hospitals in the North County.” 

“Critical Access Hospitals are the foundation for rural health care and serve critical roles in their communities,” Richard A. Duvall, CEO, Carthage Area Hospital. “They offer necessary services that otherwise wouldn’t be accessible to rural residents. In addition to the provision of needed care they provide, they serve as an economic driver in their regions. The Critical Access Hospital designation has allowed Carthage Area Hospital to survive and continue to serve North Country residents during these unprecedented times in health care. We greatly appreciate Congresswoman Stefanik’s unwavering support of our hospital and for rural healthcare across America.”

“During these uncertain times, New York’s small and rural hospitals need stable federal government support to ensure that their patients and communities can continue to count on them,” said HANYS President Bea Grause, RN, JD. “HANYS applauds Reps. Stefanik and Delgado for standing up for hospitals that are at risk of losing their Critical Access Hospital status by introducing the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act. This crucial bipartisan legislation is an important step toward protecting the status and financial security of Critical Access Hospitals providing essential services in rural areas across New York state and the country.”

In 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) made a policy change that narrows the eligibility criteria for hospitals to certify or recertify as Critical Access Hospitals. By inserting a more restrictive standard for what qualifies as a “secondary road,” currently designated Critical Access Hospitals may no longer meet the distance requirements to retain their certification, delivering a blow to rural hospitals facing severe fiscal challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Protecting Rural Access to Care Act will:

  • Restore the pre-2015 standard permanently for Critical Access Hospitals certified prior to 2015, ensuring the rules don’t change as they seek recertification.
  • Require CMS to engage in a public notice and comment period for any future guidance or regulation changes made to the designation criteria for Critical Access Hospitals.
  • Ensure that unless any formal update to distance criteria is finalized, hospitals seeking Critical Access Hospital certification or recertification will be subject to the pre-2015 standard.