AUGUSTA—A proposal from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to fund rural hospitals and ambulance services was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday. Legislation from Sen. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, was amended to fund initiatives in LD 915, “An Act To Provide Adequate Reimbursement under MaineCare for Ambulance and Neonatal Transport Services” and LD 1350, “An Act To Improve Rural Health Care.”
“All Mainers deserve the same access to health care regardless of where you live. However, those of us who live in rural Maine know that this isn’t always the reality, which is why the rural hospitals, health clinics and emergency services we do have are so important,” said President Jackson. “Folks like myself depend on our rural hospitals and ambulances to be there when we need them most. With this funding, we can make sure it stays that way.”
In Maine, both rural hospitals and ambulance services have been forced to shut down operations or scale back services. Ambulance services have shut down operations in Ellsworth and West Paris. Other communities are facing similar threats. By increasing the reimbursement rate from 65 percent to the average allowable Medicare rate, this proposal would stabilize ambulance and neonatal transport services for all Mainers.
“Having lived in rural Maine most of my life, I know firsthand the importance of our rural hospitals and health clinics,” said Sen. Mike Carpenter, D-Houlton. “I will always fight to increase access to health care in Aroostook County.”
About 40 percent of rural hospitals are at risk of closing and have collectively lost $20 million in the past five years. Rural hospitals are the source of more than 8,000 jobs in Maine and often serve as a major employer for communities. According to the Maine Hospital Association, rural hospitals are responsible for more than 8,000 jobs and contribute $1.6 billion to our economy annually. In terms of care, rural hospitals provide care to 240,000 ER patients, 2,500 newborns and 35,000 surgical patients on an annual basis.
“Many of these dedicated professionals have operated under a flawed reimbursement system for years,” said President Jackson. “With these bills, we are trying to make up for lost ground.”
Both proposals received unanimous support in the Legislature’s Committee on Health and Human Services, and in both legislative chambers. The funding will take effect Thursday, Sept. 19.