At Billings Clinic, Tester Honored for Rural Residencies Fix

New rule incorporates Senator’s bill to bring doctors to rural areas by reimbursing rural residencies

(Billings, Mont.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today was recognized for his work to increase the number of doctors in rural America during a visit to the Billings Clinic.

The recently finalized Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule change incorporates Tester’s Restoring Rural Residencies Act, which will allow Medicare to make reimbursements for the time residents spend in training at Critical Access Hospitals.

When the Billings Clinic welcomed its first class of Internal Medicine Residents in 2014, rural training rotations were included thanks to the Helmsley Charitable Trust while the hospital awaited this fix. The rule change will finally allow rural rotations through the Billings Clinic and other medical centers to be reimbursed by CMS.

“When new doctors are trained in rural communities, they are more likely to stay and build their practices in those areas,” said Tester. “This rule change will help reduce the shortage of physicians across Montana by allowing medical centers like the Billings Clinic to keep training doctors on the ground in our rural communities.”

Montana is home to 48 Critical Access Hospitals, which are facilities in rural communities that have fewer than 25 inpatient beds. Previously, regulations prevented Medicare from funding residents’ training time at these facilities, significantly limiting recruitment and training of medical professionals in rural states like Montana.

Tester originally introduced his Restoring Rural Residencies Act in 2016 after hosting a Rural Health Summit that brought together over 100 health care professionals and policy-makers to discuss challenges facing health care providers in Montana. He reintroduced the bill at the beginning of this year and wrote multiple letters to CMS demanding they adopt the policy change. CMS proposed the change in May and recently finalized the rule.

Tester has been a consistent voice for rural hospitals in Washington. Earlier this year, he introduced two bipartisan bills that would strengthen relationships between rural hospitals and medical schools and increase the number of residents serving in Montana. During last year’s budget negotiations, he secured millions of dollars in funding to invest in rural medicine and successfully fought to save long-term funding for Community Health Centers across the country.