U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., made an appearance at UHS Chenango Memorial Hospital in Norwich on Monday to promote bipartisan support of a bill he is co-sponsoring — the Rural Hospital Access Act of 2017. The bill, introduced on April 6 by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to make permanent the extension of two programs — the Medicare-Dependent Hospital program and the Medicare Low-Volume Hospital program.
“Whatever your politics, you don't want to see these programs end,” Schumer said.
MDH provides support to seven hospitals in New York, including Chenango Memorial, while the LV hospital program impacts 18 hospitals in the state. Both Chenango Memorial and Cobleskill Regional Hospital receive LV hospital adjustments.
Chenango Memorial receives $1,036,600 for its MDH program and $793,500 for its LV program under the 2015 Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. Cobleskill Regional receives $476,800 annually for LV only. Funding for both programs is set to expire Sept. 30.
Schumer underscored the urgency of passing the legislation, pointing out that Chenango Memorial stands to lose close to $21 million over the next decade unless swift action is taken by Congress.
“Rural hospitals are just as important as any other hospitals. People who live in Chenango County deserve the same care as anyone else,” Schumer said, saying that rural hospitals are under great strain due to economies of scale.
“You don't get a discount on medical equipment,” he said in regard to hospitals serving sparsely populated areas.
In an email message, Susan Van Meter, Hospital Association of New York State's senior vice president for federal relations, elaborated on the need for special funding for rural hospitals.
“In some communities across New York state, rural and small community hospitals are the only major providers of many vital health care services, particularly to those who are uninsured, elderly, and (who) experience high rates of chronic diseases. Often, Medicare reimbursement does not cover the full cost of providing care. MDH and LV are critical to helping address those payment shortfalls,” she wrote.
Chenango Memorial fits the bill for such funding. It is the county's only hospital and emergency room, serving more than 55,000 residents, 44 percent of whom are covered by Medicare or Medicaid. At Chenango Memorial itself, 76 percent of patients are are covered by either Medicare or Medicaid,
Besides providing crucial medical care to rural communities, both Schumer and Dr. Drake Lamen, president and CEO/CMO of UHS Chenango Memorial Hospital, emphasized the essential role of hospitals as economic engines.
“As a top employer in the county, Chenango Memorial plays a vital role in the local economy,” Schumer stated in an April 10 press release.
“Community leaders frequently tell me that having reliable health care in the community is critical to their ability to grow new jobs and to recruit new talent,” Lamen said in a prepared statement.
Steve Craig, president and CEO of Commerce Chenango echoed those sentiments.
“When people consider where they want to live, adequate health care is important. In upstate New York, it's 'eds (education) and meds.' If you tamper with either, it's going to have a huge negative impact,” Craig said.
The Senate bill, with its provision of permanent funding, would greatly facilitate the planning process for hospital administrators, Lamen said.
“It's hard to go from year to year,” he said.
Both Chenango Memorial and Cobleskill Regional hospitals are located in districts represented by Republicans in the House of Representatives. According to Courtney Weaver, communications director for Congressman John Faso, part of whose district includes Schoharie County, Faso supports the House version of the Rural Hospital Access Act.
In an email message Weaver wrote, “Congressman Faso supports and plans to cosponsor H.R. 1955, introduced by fellow New York Representative Tom Reed. Along with his support of Rep. Reed’s legislation, he is a strong supporter of rural health care.”
As of press time, there was no response from the office of Rep. Claudia Tenney, whose district encompasses Norwich, regarding support of the legislation.