WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWTI) — New legislation was introduced on Monday to protect the Critical Access Hospital Designation in the North Country.

The Protecting Rural Access to Care Act was introduced on January 25 to the United States House of Representatives. According to lawmakers, this legislation will protect the ongoing Critical Access Hospital designation which provided rural hospital enhanced reimbursements rates to keep essential healthcare services in rural communities.

Lawmakers shared that the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act will include the following.

  • Restore the pre-2015 distance standard permanently for Critical Access Hospitals certified prior to 2015
  • 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 hospitals seeking Critical Access Hospital certification or recertification will be subject to the pre-2015 standard, unless any formal update to distance criteria is finalized

North Country Health Care facility and system officials commented on the new legislation.

“Critical Access Hospitals have been the cornerstone for providing quality healthcare to rural communities,” said Carthage Area Hospital CEO Rich Duvall” “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.”

The new legislation was introduced to Congress by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Congresswoman Antonio Delgado.

Lewis County General Hospital CEO Gerald R. Cayer shared his thoughts on the introduction.

“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,” stated Cayer. “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 Elise Stefanik concluded by stating the following.

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.”

The Protecting Rural Access to Care Act was officially introduced to U.S. Congress on January 25, 2021.