Bipartisan legislation will direct funding to rural hospitals and clinics, through the CARES act Provider Relief Fund, shoring up the cracks exposed by the pandemic.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) introduced the Save Our Rural Health Providers Act, which ensures the Provider Relief Fund has a dedicated amount put aside for rural areas of America.
“This legislation clarifies that certain health care facilities in Alaska are eligible for COVID-19 funding to help shore up that gap, and also establishes a rural benchmark to ensure funds being allocated through coronavirus relief measures go to rural providers,” said Murkowski.
Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) approximates that 60 million Americans live in rural areas.
According to CMS, $50 billion is earmarked for providers in areas particularly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, rural providers, and providers who serve low-income populations and uninsured Americans.
While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) set-aside $1 million for every rural hospital and $100,000 for rural health centers from the Provider Relief Fund, the funding that actually reached rural health providers has varied wildly throughout the country.
Most states did receive approximately $1 million per rural health provider, but some states, like West Virginia, received about half a million per provider. “West Virginia has the 6th most rural providers in the country, but received the 29th highest allocation.”
“Plain and simple, it’s harder to serve our rural communities—especially when it comes to providing reliable and affordable healthcare—and in the middle of a health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of our lives, and we must do everything we can to ensure every West Virginian has access to the healthcare they need and deserve,” Manchin said.
“My proposed formula would secure funding for rural health providers by accounting for high percentages of Medicare and Medicaid patients, COVID-19 preparations, and vulnerable populations,” added Manchin.
According to a report by The Center for Mississippi Health Policy, Mississippi has the highest proportion of its rural hospitals in danger of closing.
“We need to ensure people living in rural Mississippi and other states continue to have access to care. That won’t be the case if more rural hospitals are pushed to close their doors because of COVID-19,” Hyde-Smith said.
“The Save Our Rural Health Providers Act is a fitting name because this bill would do exactly that. Twelve rural hospitals have already closed this year, and hundreds more are vulnerable to closure. This Act will provide the lifeline needed for rural providers as they struggle to keep doors open during this pandemic,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association.
”The Government Accountability Office found that 64 rural hospitals closed from 2013 to 2017, representing about 3 percent of all the rural hospitals we had in the country in 2013,” said HHS deputy secretary Eric D. Hargan.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, Between January 2010 and January 2019, 95 rural hospitals closed, 32 of which were Critical Access Hospitals.
Under the Save Our Rural Health Providers Act, HHS would be required to set aside 20 percent of the Provider Relief Fund for rural health providers.
Reps. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) and Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.) will introduce the companion bill in the House of Representatives Friday.
“It’s time we get these rural hospitals the support they need to continue to serve their communities,” said Small.