Schumer in town advocating for expired health programs

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer gestures in support of the tool belt given to him by Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home filled with energy bars for all the work ahead of him. Holding the tool belt is Laurence Kelly, CEO and president of Littauer. (Photo submitted)

GLOVERSVILLE — Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, was in Fulton County on Friday to advocate for “immediate renewal” of two health programs that have expired.

Schumer was at Nathan Littauer Hospital to speak about the Low-Volume Hospital and Medicare-Dependent Hospital programs and tour the hospital’s facilities.

According to Schumer’s office, the Medicare-Dependent Hospital Program provides support to seven hospitals in New York that treat a high percentage of Medicare patients, and the Low-Volume Program impacts 18 New York hospitals that provided Medicare support to hospitals that are very important to rural communities, but do not necessarily serve a high volume of patients.

The programs expired on Sept. 30.

“Both programs are essential for the hospitals in rural New York, which are often under serious financial pressure due to a lower volume of patients and a higher percentage of Medicare beneficiaries than their urban and suburban counterparts,” Schumer’s office wrote in a press release.

Schumer told those in attendance that if these two programs are not renewed, NLH could lose $1.2 million and year. St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam could lose $1.7 million. Cobleskill hospital doesn’t have the Medicare-Dependent funding but would lose $500,000 from the Low-Volume Program if it is not renewed.

“That is a lot of money. It would mean job loss and more importantly, it would mean lower quality healthcare,” Schumer said.

Schumer said Congress has let this funding, approved in 1990, expire before.

He said there is bipartisan support for renewing the program. He said that if they are reinstated within a few months payments, could be retroactive.

“If we don’t renew them, or let them stay out for a long time, the hospitals are out of money,” Schumer said. “I am here to tell residents of Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties that I will use what ever clout I have as minority leader in the United States Senate to make sure these programs are fully funded.”

Schumer said he has co-sponsored a bipartisan bill with Rep. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa to re-instate the programs.

“We work hard for these programs and so far we have kept them successful and kept them going. But all the cuts you’ve heard and read about in healthcare, it’s hard. So, we have a big fight a head of us,” Schumer said.

Schumer said he is very aware of the needs of rural hospitals.

“In America, we believe everyone should be treated equally…rural people, people in smaller towns and city, rural areas, are entitled to every bit as good of health care as people in that larger cities,” Schumer said. “That means you have to have the highest quality at your hospitals.”

NLH President and Chief Executive Officer Laurence Kelly said the hospital plays and important role in serving the people of Fulton, Hamilton and Montgomery Counties, the population of which is older than the national average, had incomes lower than the average, and has more chronic illness and disease than the average.

“Our 1,000 employees are extremely proud of the excellent care we provide to everybody who walks through our doors,” Kelly said.

Kelly said Schumer has a long history of national healthcare support.

“He has been particularly supportive of rural hospitals like ours. He understands the unique challenges small hospitals in rural areas face, and the vital importance we play in accessing care,” Kelly said. “It is vitally important that rural hospitals that are like us, that provide needed care exists.”

Kelly said these programs support hospitals like Nathan Littauer which are small, rural and have more than 60 percent of their inpatients enrolled in the medicare program.

Kelly said NLH said 69 percent of patient at NLH are enrolled in Medicaid. Schumer said that is the high rate in the state.

“This program provides additional reimbursement to hospitals like us and to maintain our ability to exist and provide quality, accessible care,” Kelly said. “It is critical to our hospital and ultimately to the patients we serve.”

According to Schumer’s office Nathan Littauer Hospital serves more than 31,400 residents, 62 percent of whom are covered by Medicare or Medicaid. In 2016, the hospital’s emergency room received 24,000 visits and 80 percent of its patients were insured by Medicare or Medicaid.

“We have to keep these programs going. We are going to have a big, big budget negotiation in December. And the Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate get together and say what can we agree on. So they need my support to do that. And I’m going to say unless you renew this program don’t count on my support. In the past that has been able to get these programs passed.”

Schumer told those in attendance he encourages them to contact their Congressional representatives to renew these programs.

Kerry Minor can be reached at kminor@leaderherald.com.

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