January 22, 2009

Wyden, Crapo and Walden Introduce Legislation to Improve Patient Access to Hospitals in Rural, Under-Served Areas of Oregon and Nationally

Bill Would Guarantee that Veterans Not be Turned Away

Washington, D.C. - Eliminating bureaucratic barriers that made it harder for rural residents and veterans to receive health care, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) introduced legislation today that would improve access to nearly 1,300 hospitals in rural, under-served areas of the nation. Twenty-five of the hospitals are in Oregon.

The Critical Access Hospital Flexibility Act of 2009 would give small, rural hospitals greater flexibility in complying with federal regulations in order to better meet the needs of local residents and avoid the high cost of transporting patients to other facilities.

"Right now, when the 26th patient walks in the door, critical access hospitals are being asked to choose between their financial viability or their patient's health. That just doesn't make sense," said Wyden. "Folks in rural areas shouldn't have to jump through hoops to see a doctor any more than doctors should be pressured into turning patients away. This bill will help hospitals in rural, under-served areas -- including some in my home state of Oregon -- to serve their communities during public health emergencies."

"Critical access hospitals are among the most important health care providers in rural communities around the country, many of which are in my home state of Idaho," said Crapo. "This bill will give those hospitals the flexibility they need to provide high quality care and eliminate unnecessary and often costly hospital transfers. This bill also honors those who have served our country by guaranteeing care to veterans in these hospitals."

"Rural residents depend on Critical Access Hospitals for their health care," said Walden, who introduced identical legislation in the House. "No one, especially our veterans, should ever be turned away from access to quality health care when they are in need. I look forward to building upon the good work that's been done in the House and Senate to get this solution across the finish line."

Medicare's Critical Access Hospital program ensures that rural communities have access to acute care and emergency services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In order to obtain this designation, hospitals must meet certain requirements, including one that there be no more than 25beds occupied by patients on a given day. Hospitals that exceed that amount have had to transport patients to other hospitals further from their homes and families.

The Critical Access Hospital Flexibility Act of 2009 would allow rural hospitals to avoid high, unnecessary transportation costs by giving them more flexibility in how they account for the 25-patient bed requirement. It would also exempt beds occupied by military veterans from the count.

The legislation has been endorsed by the National Rural Health Association, Providence Health & Services,Catholic Health Initiative, Oregon Association of Hospital and Health Systems (OAHHS), the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

"The Critical Access Hospital designation has been a success for the 25 Oregon hospitals currently taking part in this program. Under the proposal from Senator Wyden and Congressman Walden, CAH's will be provided flexibility in how they measure patient census," said OAHHS President and CEO Andy Davidson. "This flexibility in measurement of patient bed days or through VA status reassures our rural communities that access to primary and emergency health care services will be available when they need it most, in their own backyard. At the same time it honors the original principles of the CAH program by limiting this designation to very small and rural hospitals."

Critical Access Hospitals in Oregon include:

  • Cottage Grove Community Hospital in Cottage Grove
  • Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City
  • Providence Seaside Hospital in Seaside
  • Blue Mountain Hospital in John Day
  • Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach
  • Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Heppner
  • Wallowa Memorial Hospital in Enterprise
  • Lower Umpqua Hospital in Reedsport
  • Southern Coos Hospital and Health Center in Bandon
  • Coquille Valley Hospital in Coquille
  • Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria
  • Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston
  • Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande
  • Harney District Hospital in Burns
  • Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital in Hood River
  • Lake District Hospital in Lakeview
  • Mountain View Hospital District in Madras
  • Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport
  • Peace Harbor Hospital in Florence
  • St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton
  • St. Elizabeth Health Services in Baker City
  • Tillamook County General Hospital in Tillamook
  • West Valley Community Hospital in Dallas
  • Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Prineville
  • Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital in Lebanon

Wyden is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Medicare program and over the implementation of this legislation. Walden is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare.