BENNINGTON -- A federal program that accounts for roughly $2 million in the local hospital's budget was signed into law Monday, according to its main proponent, House Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

The Rural Hospital Access Act provides added funding to hospitals heavily dependent on patients enrolled in Medicare, or "low volume hospitals."

According to Welch's office, Vermont has two Medicare dependent hospitals, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. The Brattleboro hospital is also one of the state's three low-volume hospitals, the other two being Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans, and Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin.

SVMC Spokesman Kevin Robinson said Tuesday that the hospital is grateful to Welch for his efforts, as the source of funding is crucial to the local health system. It was reported last year that about 60 percent of SVMC's patients use Medicaid and that if the program were not extended the hospital would be out $1.8 million. Thomas Dee, president and chief executive officer of the hospital's parent company, Southwestern Vermont Health Care, said loss of the funding would mean cuts to the hospital's operating budget.

The program is not new, but funding for it was removed by the Affordable Care Act. Welch and Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., pushed for funding to be extended in 2012 and were successful, but each time they have only been able to secure funding for another year or so.


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According to Robinson, Congress had extended funding for the program to March of this year. The bill signed Monday by President Barack Obama extends it for another year.

"It's been repeatedly extended by Congress, but nothing permanent has been put in place," said Robinson. He said there have been discussions with Welch and other members of Vermont's congressional delegation of getting something longer-term put in place.

"Vermont's rural hospitals have a strong reputation for providing high quality health care to seniors in the communities they serve," said Welch in a statement. "This legislation will make sure our hospitals serving a large number of seniors are adequately funded."

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.