Senator Inhofe stands to protect rural hospitals

U.S. Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) this week joined six other Senators in cosponsoring the Critical Access Flexibility Act of 2009 (S.1171).     

The legislation restores a state  authority to designate a facility as a necessary provider by allowing the state to waive the mileage criteria required to qualify as a Critical Access Hospital (CAH), assuming all other requirements are met.       "This legislation is necessary to protect rural hospitals in Oklahoma and nationwide. It will return flexibility to the state that is needed to safeguard the future of the hospitals in rural communities," Senator Inhofe said.

"These rural hospitals provide access to medical care for rural communities’ sick, elderly, and low-income populations, and if these rural hospitals were forced to reduce patient services, the consequences could be deadly .  Additionally, these hospitals are the largest employers in a vast majority of rural communities. Therefore, in the midst of this economic crisis, we must not neglect the serious threat that closing these hospitals would pose to their local economies."    

He continued,  "It is critical that we pass this legislation to ensure that there will not be any more rural hospitals closed like the Pawnee Municipal Hospital that was closed in 2007. I worked very hard to keep the Pawnee Municipal Hospital open, and in standing by my commitment to defend rural hospitals, I encourage my colleagues to support this effort."    

Val Schott, Director of Oklahoma State University  Center for Rural Health and the Oklahoma Office of Rural Health said,   "This is the most significant improvement to the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program.  This allows communities whose situations have changed to join other communities in the Critical Access Hospital program ensuring health care for those communities.  That health care is both effective, delivered at the primary care level, and cost effective, saving precious health care dollars."       

Inhofe is joining Senators Pryor (D-Ark.), Brownback (R-Kan.), Bayh (D-Ind.), Chambliss (R-Ga.), Isakson (R-Ga.), and Lugar (R-Ind.) in co-sponsoring the legislation.    

A Critical Access Hospital (CAH) is a hospital that is certified to receive cost-based reimbursement from Medicare.      The reimbursement that CAHs receive is intended to improve their financial performance and thereby reduce hospital closures.     

CAHs are certified under a different set of Medicare conditions of participation that are more flexible than those used for acute care hospitals.     In order for a hospital to be classified as a CAH, it must meet a number of conditions including a distance requirement that it must be 35 miles away from the nearest hospital.    

Prior to the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) in 2003, states were allowed to designate hospitals as Critical Access Hospitals, however, upon enactment of the MMA, states no longer had that right.      Senator Inhofe tried to save Pawnee Municipal Hospital which was forced to shut down because of the CMS mileage guidelines. If the State still had the right to designate, the people of Pawnee would still have access to a hospital.