BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro Memorial Hospital will be able to collect extra Medicare reimbursement payments, at least through March, after Rep. Peter Welch was able to extend a program that helps rural hospitals.

Welch made sure the Medicare dependent hospital program was included in the budget agreement that passed the House earlier this month. The program, which was included in a previous budget deal earlier this year, expired in September, but Welch was able to find support for the program and even had funding included to cover the payments that should have been made starting Oct. 1.

"Vermont"s rural hospitals have a strong reputation for providing high quality health care to seniors in the communities they serve," Welch said. "This legislation will make sure our hospitals continue to serve them in the short term."

Congress established the Medicare Dependent Hospital program in 1990 to help support rural hospitals that have fewer than 100 beds and where at least 60 percent of the patients use Medicare.

There are about 200 Medicare dependent hospitals in the country, and two in Vermont, including Brattleboro and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

BMH will receive about $1 million in Medicare payments it otherwise would have missed if the program expired in September.

Welch said the program received support in Congress because the hospitals are in both democratic and republican districts.

Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York said the smaller hospitals need the extra help to cover their costs which are not fully reimbursed by Medicare.

"Our rural hospitals will see a much needed extension in funding as part of the bipartisan budget agreement," Reed said. "I am pleased this policy was included and will continue to partner with the rural hospitals moving into next year to ensure long term program funding."