Hoeven, Tester Introduce Legislation to Extend Program to Help Improve Health Care in Rural Areas

Senators’ Bill Continues Program that Provides Flexibility & Increased Reimbursement under Medicare, Benefits Three Critical Access Hospitals in North Dakota

WASHINGTON – Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) this week introduced legislation to extend the Frontier Community Health Integration Project (FCHIP) until August 2024, a program in ten facilities across North Dakota, Montana and Nevada that develops and tests health care delivery and reimbursement models for Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) in hyper-rural counties. The participating facilities in North Dakota include:

  • Jacobson Memorial Hospital Care Center in Elgin.
  • McKenzie County Healthcare Systems in Watford City.
  • Southwest Healthcare Services in Bowman.

“Critical Access Hospitals play a key role in preserving and enhancing the quality of life in our rural communities,” said Hoeven. “By extending this demonstration project, we can enable rural health care providers, including the three North Dakota CAHs that participated in the program, to continue strengthening the care available to Medicare beneficiaries in their regions while also providing cost savings to the federal government.”

“In a medical emergency, having a health care facility in your community can be the difference between life and death for folks in rural America,” said Tester. “Montana’s Critical Access Hospitals are vital to making sure folks in frontier towns get the care they need, and we’ve got to extend this project so these facilities have every tool in the toolbox to get the job done.”

“Ensuring access to high quality health care in North Dakota’s frontier counties continues to be very challenging. The FCHIP was designed to give small, frontier communities an opportunity to address these challenges in innovative ways. For the North Dakota participants, it has shown great promise, and we are very pleased that Sen. Hoeven and Sen. Tester are working to make sure FCHIP will continue to help us test new ways to ensure access to high quality care in rural areas. We applaud their leadership,” said Tim Blasl, President of the North Dakota Hospital Association.     

Specifically, FCHIP provides a waiver to Medicare payment rules that allows hospitals to increase the number of available Skilled Nursing Facility or Nursing Facility beds, cover the costs required to facilitate and grow telehealth programs and pay the expenses of providing ambulance services at each participating Critical Access Hospital.

Based on an interim report to Congress in 2018, FCHIP interventions demonstrated improved access and enhanced capability to provide services to the communities. However, given the low patient volume of these rural health care facilities, the project needs more data. The FCHIP Extension Act would allow the program to collect more information in order to accurately and fully evaluate budget neutrality, effects on care delivery and improvement of access to services in frontier communities.