Cantwell Urges Senate Leaders to Protect Washington’s Rural Hospitals

Bipartisan group of 20 Senators oppose President’s budget proposal to reduce funding for Critical Access Hospitals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), joined a bipartisan effort to stop a proposal that could lower Medicare payments to 38 rural hospitals in Washington state and thousands more across the nation.

Cantwell, a member of the Senate Rural Healthcare Caucus, was one of 20 senators who sent a letter last Thursday to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) asking the committee to reject a provision in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget that would cut Medicare reimbursement levels for rural hospitals.

If enacted, the proposal would reduce Medicare reimbursement levels for Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and remove the ‘critical access’ designation for any hospital within 10 miles of another hospital. The Critical Access Hospital designation was established in 1997 to enable rural hospitals to provide healthcare services to Medicare patients in their local communities. Hospitals that provide these services are reimbursed at a higher rate by the Medicare program to recognize the critical services they provide to rural communities.

In Washington state the President’s proposal could impact the 38 Critical Access Hospitals operating in the state and hinder access to quality healthcare while putting jobs in Washington communities at risk. The proposal would do so by reducing the payments hospitals receive through Medicare. The institutions that could be hurt in Washington state include Lake Chelan Hospital in Chelan, Pullman Regional Hospital and Skyline Hospital in White Salmon. A full list of the Critical Access Hospitals in Washington state can be found here.

“Critical Access Hospitals play a vital role providing access to health care, economic security for families and seniors, and jobs to rural communities across the nation,” the senators wrote in the letter. “These hospitals are safety nets for hundreds of thousands of Americans, providing inpatient and outpatient services, as well as 24-hour emergency care. CAHs make it possible for patients with complex medical needs to remain at home in rural communities. Importantly, these hospitals also serve as local economic engines. 

The Senators noted that a recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) also proposed decertifying all CAHs within a certain number of miles from the nearest hospital. The recommendations from the Administration’s report would strip the CAH designation from two-thirds of the country’s hospitals currently using it in an effort to reduce Medicare spending.  

“A typical CAH has 141 employees and generates $6.8 million in wages,” the senators continued in the letter sent last Friday. “For every job at a CAH, these hospitals create an additional .38 jobs in their community—generating an added $1.6 million in economic impact.  Given the importance of CAHs throughout rural America, it is essential that these hospitals receive proper Medicare reimbursement.”    

The other senators who signed the letter are Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Al Franken (D-MN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS), James Risch (R-ID), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mark Begich (D-AK), John Hoeven (R-ND).