Saratoga, NY – Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, along with Congressman Antonio Delgado (NY-19), sent a letter to U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure urging CMS to reverse an administrative policy that puts financially vulnerable rural hospitals at risk of losing their Critical Access Hospital status. The Critical Access Hospital designation provides hospitals with enhanced reimbursement rates to keep essential healthcare services in rural communities.

In part, the letter reads: “As you know, millions of Americans living in rural communities depend on their local hospital to provide lifesaving care and treatments, yet the unique challenges of serving remote areas has led to an increasing number of rural hospitals to shut down over the past decade. We are concerned that a policy implemented by CMS in 2015 only serves to accelerate this alarming trend and, if left unaddressed, will continue to threaten access to care for many vulnerable populations.

The letter goes on to read: “We appreciate that in order to ensure capacity and flexibility for providers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS suspended non-emergency survey inspections and recertifications in March 2020. It is our understanding that while the recertification of [Critical Access Hospitals] has resumed, such recertifications are being done without applying the distance requirements for at least the duration of the public health emergency. While temporary relief is beneficial in the interim, a permanent solution is necessary to ensure vulnerable hospitals do not lose this financial lifeline that allows them to continue serving rural America.”

In 2015, CMS made a policy change that narrows the eligibility criteria for hospitals to certify or recertify as Critical Access Hospitals. By inserting a more restrictive standard for what qualifies as a “secondary road,” currently designated Critical Access Hospitals may no longer meet the distance requirements to retain their certification, delivering a blow to rural hospitals as they seek to emerge from the severe fiscal challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This past January, Congresswoman Stefanik and Congressman Delgado introduced the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act, legislation designed to protect the Critical Access Hospital designation.

In addition to the letter, Congresswoman Stefanik issued this statement: “The Critical Access Hospital designation is vital for hospitals and healthcare centers in the most rural parts of America to continue providing quality care to their residents. Our North Country hospitals often face unique challenges and need long-term certainty as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Administration must prioritize this simple policy fix to protect healthcare access in rural communities and ensure vulnerable hospitals are not at risk of losing their designation.”

“During these uncertain times, New York’s small and rural hospitals need stable federal government support to ensure that their patients and communities can continue to count on them,” said HANYS President Bea Grause, RN, JD. “HANYS applauds Reps. Stefanik and Delgado for standing up for hospitals that are at risk of losing their Critical Access Hospital status by working with the administration and introducing the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act. These bipartisan efforts are crucial to protecting the status and financial security of Critical Access Hospitals providing essential services in rural areas across New York state and the country.”