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Senate passes bill to help rural hospitals like DCMH

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The Senate last week passed a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) and fellow senators to extend a Medicare demonstration program that helps rural hospitals in sparsely populated states keep their doors open.

"This demonstration has helped several hospitals in Colorado's rural communities, like Delta County, Steamboat Springs, and Sterling, continue to serve their communities," Bennet said. "This bill will help maintain access to critical health care services in these rural areas."

"By extending the demonstration for five more years, this bill allows medium-sized Iowa hospitals participating in the demonstration to continue to seek out opportunities to expand and improve health services needed in their rural communities," Grassley said.

The Senate approved the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Extension Act of 2015 without objection. The bill has 14 Senate co-sponsors. A related bill is pending in the House of Representatives.

Colorado has three participating hospitals, including Delta County Memorial Hospital in Delta, Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, and Sterling Regional MedCenter in Sterling.

"Colorado is proud to have three rural hospitals participating in this important project," said Steven Summer, CEO of the Colorado Hospital Association. "The challenges facing rural health care facilities have never been greater. Finding new models for providing care and improving overall health in rural areas is paramount to our future. We thank Senator Bennet for his leadership in ensuring that this crucial effort is renewed."

"This is an encouraging step forward to create financial viability for rural hospitals to provide access to quality care in rural Colorado," said Jason Cleckler, CEO of Delta County Memorial Hospital.

Initiated in 2004, the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program is a five-year program created to help rural hospitals in the country's 10 most sparsely populated states. The program was renewed for another five years in 2010 and expanded to include 20 of the most sparsely populated states. This program provides participating hospitals and tests the feasibility and advisability of a cost-based payment model for acute-care inpatient services.

Eligible hospitals must be located in a rural area and within one of the 20 most sparsely populated states; must have fewer than 51 inpatient beds; must offer 24-hour emergency care services; and are not eligible for designation as a Community Access Hospital.

Approximately 35 hospitals have participated in this program since its inception. Currently, there are 23 hospitals participating in the Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Program.

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