Durbin Introduces Legislation to Ensure Anesthesia and Surgical Services in Rural Areas are Covered

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation late last night that would allow services provided by Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) to be reimbursed by Medicare. The Rural Access to Nurse Anesthesia Services Act would close existing loopholes to guarantee anesthesiology cost reimbursement for Critical Access Hospitals and enable these hospitals to continue to provide surgical services to residents in rural areas.


“In my state of Illinois, 51 Critical Access Hospitals provide emergency, primary care, and surgery services directly to 51 rural communities. These hospitals cover over 60 percent of the counties in the state and reach over one million rural residents,” said Durbin. “Without the services of rural nurse anesthetists, many of these hospitals would not be able to offer surgical care. The Rural Access to Nurse Anesthesia Services Act will enable hospitals to offer the highest quality and availability of services to patients in Illinois and around the country.


While it has been a longstanding policy for Medicare and Medicaid to reimburse Critical Access Hospitals for the cost of services provided by nurse anesthetists, the law was changed 3 years ago. The new policy eliminated reimbursements for a number of hospitals, five of which are in Illinois. Durbin’s Rural Access to Nurse Anesthesia Services Act would restore the ability for Critical Access Hospitals to receive reimbursements for nurse anesthetists.


Over 1,300 Critical Access Hospitals provide essential health care services to rural and small communities nationwide. Durbin said they are a vital part of the health care safety net to ensure the elderly and disadvantaged have access to both primary and emergency care. Nurse anesthetists are the primary anesthesia providers at rural hospitals and also offer obstetrical, surgical and trauma stabilization services to medically underserved areas.


Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by Representatives Phil Hare (D-IL) and Timothy Johnson (R-IL). Both the House and Senate bills are supported by the American Hospital Association, the Illinois Hospital Association, and the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network.