Rural hospitals target of new federal legislation

A bi-partisan bill introduced last week by Colorado’s two U.S. Senators will help keep rural hospitals afloat as the COVID-19 continues to strain hospitals and providers across the country, the bill sponsors say.

Colorado Senators Cory Gardner, a Republican, and Democrat Michael Bennet said the bill – the Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act – will help halt the troubling trend of rural hospitals from shuttering their doors to patients who cannot reach an urban hospital.

 

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The measure includes grants and loans to keep rural facilities running for the 60 million Americans who rely on them for care, the senators said.

The country saw 19 rural hospitals close in 2019 up from 15 closures in 2018, due mostly to financial strain. At least 38 percent of rural hospitals are unprofitable, according to HealthLeaders.

The COVID-19 spread has put more pressure on rural hospitals, mainly because many state and federal governments have suspended elective surgeries to relieve pressure on large, urban hospitals as they fight the virus, the senators said.

Rural hospitals rely disproportionately on elective procedures to keep their doors open, the senators said.

“Even before the outbreak, many of our rural hospitals are providers were on the brink of shuttering,” Bennet said. “Now they face an existential crisis. Our plan would provide immediate assistance to stabilize and strengthen our rural hospitals, so they can continue to play a critical role on the front lines of this public health crisis.”

The senators add rural hospitals will be essential in the COVID-19 fight as open beds in rural hospitals will be needed to accommodate patient transfers from overwhelmed urban hospitals. Many rural facilities are also equipped to handle patients in need of ventilators.

The Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act would:

  • Provide immediate relief for rural hospitals with emergency mandatory one-time grants with Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and rural Prospective Payment System (PPS) hospitals equaling $1,000 per patient day for three months.
  • Provide stabilization for rural hospitals with a one-time, emergency grant for CAH and rural PPS hospitals equaling the total reimbursement received for services for three months to stabilize the loss of revenue.
  • Encourage hospital coordination with a 20 percent increase in Medicare reimbursement for any patient in a rural hospital using the swing bed program to incentivize freeing up capacity in larger, overcrowded hospitals.
  • Provide stabilization and relief for providers with an emergency, one-time grant for all providers and ambulatory surgery centers equal to their total payroll from Jan. 1- April 2019.
  • Provide funding for physicians and providers by authorizing the Small Business Administration to provide low interest loans to providers and ambulatory surgery centers at 0.25 percent interest rate that will not accrue until two years after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.

Joining Bennet and Gardner in introducing the bill are U.S. Senators John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Doug Jones, D-Ala, and Cindy Hyde Smith, R-Miss.