Rural health crisis: Help may be on way for ailing hospitals

Rural hospitals have been on the brink of financial disaster for years, but it seems that some aid may be coming from both state and federal lawmakers.

A bill that has been pending in Congress since last July would repeal the sequestration cuts for rural hospitals, as well as cuts to the Disproportionate Share Hospital payments, according to Healthcare Dive. The Medicare-Dependent Hospital, Low-Volume Hospital and Critical Access Hospital payment enhancements would also stay in place and the Sole Community Hospital "hold harmless" payments would also be restored.

The bill would also create a new kind of bedless hospital called the Community Outpatient Hospital that would have around-the-clock emergency room services and would qualify for payments.

Rural hospitals have been hammered in recent years by those cuts, as well as the refusal of many states to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. A study released last month identified some 673 rural facilities nationwide that are financially vulnerable.

On the state level, California's lawmakers are trying to obtain funding to save five rural facilities. And Georgia announced last year a unique hub-and-spoke regional model for rural hospitals that is expected to help keep their doors open. That was instituted after it appeared as many as 12 rural hospitals in Georgia would have to cease operations.

"I think the states are trying to think creatively, especially when it comes to keeping emergency rooms open," Maggie Elehwany, vice president of government relations at the National Rural Health Association, told Healthcare Dive. "North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas have a tremendously high number of closures and number of rural hospitals at risk."

To learn more:
- read the Healthcare Dive article