Senate approves Tester bill to protect rural health services

Senator’s bipartisan measure blocks federal agency from implementing onerous provision

(U.S. SENATE) – The U.S. Senate this week unanimously passed Senator Jon Tester’s bipartisan bill to protect rural Americans’ access to critical outpatient therapy services.

Tester’s bill, co-sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), prevents the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing a new rule in 2014 that requires direct physician supervision of outpatient therapeutic services – such as drug infusions and outpatient psychiatric services – at Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and other small hospitals.

CMS tried to mandate the new policy for all outpatient therapeutic services, a requirement that would severely limit the ability of rural Americans to get much-needed care in their local communities.

“When folks in small towns get sick, the last thing they need is the added burden of having to travel long distances to get the care they need,” Tester said. “Washington’s one-size-fits-all solutions often don’t work, and this bill allows folks in rural communities to receive care at local Critical Access Hospitals and maintains the high-quality health care rural Americans expect and deserve.”

Many Critical Access Hospitals and hospitals with fewer than 100 beds are located in rural parts of country. Tester’s new bill delays CMS’s proposal for one year and directs CMS to implement a more reasonable policy for outpatient services at small hospitals.

Tester held his first hearing last year in his subcommittee that oversees federal programs and the federal workforce on ways to improve rural veterans’ health care. He is also introducing legislation to revise physician certification requirements for inpatient critical access hospital services.

Tester’s bill, S. 1954, is available online HERE. Tester and Moran in 2013 also introduced S. 1143, the Protecting Access to Rural Therapy Services (PARTS) Act, to address the therapy supervision issue on a permanent basis.