Small, rural health care facilities provide care for 62 million patients across the nation. At the same time, many facilities struggle to keep their doors open and seem to face an unending threat of cuts to federal Medicare dollars. Cuts to rural hospitals mean job and revenue losses to rural communities, and can even mean rural facility closures, which force patients to lose health care in their community.

Now more than ever, it is vital to have strong advocates supporting rural America, especially when it comes to health care.

Montana is lucky to have Max Baucus working for it in the U.S. Senate. He is truly Montana through and through, and a real champion for strengthening our nation’s health care system — especially our hospitals and providers in rural America.

That is why the National Rural Health Association recently presented Sen. Baucus with the “2013 Legislative Achievement Award.” The award recognizes Sen. Baucus and his work to protect and improve access to rural health care in Montana and across the nation.

For more than 30 years, Sen. Baucus has been working to make it easier for Montanans and other rural Americans to receive quality care. He is the author of critical health care policy that has ensured continued access to hospitals all across America. His legislative record is long and accomplished. He has fought to ensure a fair Medicare reimbursement rate for rural hospitals, maintained funding for critical access hospitals and secured additional assistance for small hospitals with low patient volumes.

Sen. Baucus’ work hasn’t just helped rural hospitals. He has crafted legislation to increase America’s health workforce in rural America. He fought for improvements to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, and ensured rural providers received a fair reimbursement from Medicare. And he pushed for increased funding for community health centers and rural health clinics, cornerstones for primary care for many rural communities. Because of his hard work, people across the nation, regardless of where they live, will have greater access to health care providers.

Most recently, Sen. Baucus helped craft bipartisan legislation to ensure Medicare patients were able to continue seeing their doctor. He should be applauded for helping craft a provision as part of the year-end “fiscal cliff” package, known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which ensured doctors continued to receive payments for seeing Medicare patients.

In addition to preserving seniors’ access to their doctors, the provision ensured a lifesaving medical treatment will still be available for kidney dialysis patients, many of whom live in rural America. Throughout these budget debates and discussions, there was no greater champion for rural health care than Sen. Baucus.

Most importantly, Sen. Baucus knows you cannot apply a one-size-fits-all policy to health care in America. He understands the unique economic, cultural and social differences of small towns and rural communities, because that’s where he is from.

The National Rural Health Association thanks Sen. Baucus for his extraordinary leadership and continued efforts to safeguard rural health programs.

— Alan Morgan is CEO of the nonprofit National Rural Health Association, dedicated to improving the health of rural Americans.

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