Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik introduced the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act with Congressman Antonio Delgado (D-NY-19). This bipartisan legislation will protect the Critical Access Hospital designation, an important certification that provides rural hospitals in New York’s 21st Congressional District enhanced reimbursement rates to keep essential healthcare services in rural communities. Congresswoman Stefanik issued the following statement:

“I will always fight for North Country hospitals who face significant challenges and have risen to the occasion as we have worked as a community to beat COVID-19. I am proud to introduce the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act, a necessary and permanent solution to protect North Country hospitals and healthcare centers. The guidance that was released by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) in 2015 put rural hospitals and healthcare centers at a dangerous risk of losing their Critical Access Hospital certification and the much-needed benefits that come with it. I was proud to work directly with district hospitals and the previous administration to place a temporary pause on re-certifications during the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill will provide a long-lasting solution. North Country hospitals and healthcare centers, workers, and first responders continue to heroically battle the COVID-19 pandemic in our rural communities, where access to healthcare is critical. I am honored to stand with them.”

Gerald R. Cayer, MPH, CEO, Lewis County General Hospital issued the following statement: “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. Our elected leaders back then had the foresight to see the important role rural hospitals played in providing local access to vital health care services.  Today, Congresswoman Stefanik’s foresight in introducing the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act is critical in keeping local Critical Access Hospitals and rural health systems viable, such as Lewis County General Hospital and Lewis County Health System.  Congresswoman Stefanik’s commitment to rural health care is unwavering and crucial in supporting the collective response by North County rural hospitals to the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020, which continues to profoundly stress all local Critical Access Hospitals. Congresswoman Stefanik’s introduction of the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act will address an administrative policy change that, if not changed, will negatively impact the viability of Critical Access Hospitals in the North County, including Lewis County.”

“Critical Access Hospitals have been the cornerstone for providing quality healthcare to rural communities. Without them, patients would have to travel long distances to receive care. Now more than ever, their importance is significant, especially during the COVID pandemic. The Protecting Rural Access to Care Act ensures the survival of Critical Access Hospitals in New York State and across the nation. This is further evidence of Congresswoman Stefanik’s commitment to the health and safety of rural residents,” said Rich Duvall, Carthage Area Hospital CEO.

“The Protecting Rural Access to Care Act is an important step in retaining access-to-care in rural communities and avoiding the costs of unmanaged comorbidities facing its residents,” said Rob Bloom, Carthage Area Hospital CFO.

The Protecting Rural Access to Care Act will:

  • Restore the pre-2015 distance 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.