SARANAC LAKE - U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer used a visit to Adirondack Health's newest facility Friday to push for legislation to extend a Medicare program that supports rural hospitals.
The Low Volume Hospital Program, which is used by 24 hospitals across the state and many more across the country, is set to expire on Sept. 30. If it does, Schumer said Adirondack Health would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in Medicare payments.
"Basically it would put our health care providers in a sling as they try to treat patients," Schumer said after touring Adirondack Health's new $2.7 million Wound and Hyperbaric Treatment Center. "It just doesn't make any sense to cut off this program."
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, right, shakes hands with a woman outside Adirondack Health’s new Wound and Hyperbaric Center in Saranac Lake, which he toured on Friday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Adirondack Health officials said the hospital would lose an estimated $760,000 in the 2013 fiscal year if the program is not renewed.
"I think rural hospitals like ours cannot take that large of a hit without having to look at other services we might have to discontinue in order to make up for that loss," said Adirondack Health CEO Chandler Ralph. "That's really the threat if we don't get it."
The Low Volume Hospital Program, enacted in 1988, is designed to provide support to hospitals that are critical to the community but don't serve a high volume of patients. A low-volume hospital must be more than 15 road miles from another comparable hospital and have fewer than 1,600 Medicare discharges a year. Adirondack Health has averaged between 1,100 and 1,200 Medicare discharges over the past five years.
Schumer, a Democrat from New York, has sponsored legislation with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa that would extend payments to hospitals enrolled in the program for an additional year, but the bill has been held up by political bickering.
"There's so much fighting over health care, and there's so much fighting over just about everything, that something logical like this can't happen," Schumer said. "The Low Volume program will expire September 30th if we don't fix it, and that will hurt Adirondack and every one of our hospitals in the North Country rather severely."
Despite the gridlock in Washington, Schumer said later that he's optimistic the legislation will get passed before the program expires.
"I think there's a very good chance it will be re-enacted," he said. "The fact that we have bipartisan leadership on this bill, Senator Grassley and myself, makes a big difference."
During a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, Schumer said he had watched many of the speeches during this week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., which wrapped up Thursday night when Mitt Romney accepted the GOP nomination for president.
"I watched his speech; I didn't agree with it," Schumer said. "He said he was going to create 12 million jobs. Every nominee comes in and says I'm going to create a lot of jobs, but he didn't lay out how. I think that he's gotta fill in a lot of details before he can convince the American people as to the direction he wants to take the country.
"But what I appreciate about the speech, it was not that harsh. It was harsh, but not as harsh as it could have been. The (GOP vice presidential nominee Paul) Ryan speech the night before, I thought, was over the top. And frankly, there were so many untruths in that speech that it was appalling to me."
Schumer said he will speak Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Schumer flew in and out of Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear, according to airport Manager Corey Hurwitch. While there, he briefly toured the site of the airport's $660,000 apron rehabilitation project, for which Schumer helped secure funding, and met with Hurwitch and the project's inspector, Peter Rase of Passero Associates.
The work is meant to resolve drainage problems and issues with the increased weight of aircraft using the apron. Hurwitch said the project involves adding subsurface drainage, surface drainage, a full depth reconstruction of the asphalt and other minor airfield improvements. It is expected to be completed within 90 days. Acts II Construction of Gouverneur is the contractor on the project.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.