Schumer to sponsor renewal of rural hospital aid programs

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is pushing to renew two federal grants to rural hospitals set to expire at the end of March, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.

On April 1, the federal government will rescind $16.5 million in annual Medicare reimbursements to 25 rural facilities in upstate New York unless the Low-Volume Hospital (LVH) and Medicare-Dependent Hospital (MDH) programs are renewed. Schumer and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters this week they will co-sponsor legislation to renew the programs, which will be linked to must-pass legislation on Medicare reimbursement for physicians.

"As you can imagine, hospitals that serve rural areas are year after year under fiscal pressure," Schumer said, echoing the long-held concerns of rural hospital leaders. "They have to provide the same level of care but they have fewer patients. So it's harder for them to run an MRI machine 100 percent of the time. It's harder for them to have a specialist."

Renewals of the program thus far have been on a short-term basis due to the cost of financing them long-term. The 1997 Balanced Budget Act required Medicare payments to be limited to the overall rate of economic growth as part of the sustainable growth rate. However, healthcare costs have risen at a much faster pace than other sectors of the economy, which means Congress must periodically renew programs such as the LVH and MDH. Congress came close to passing a permanent repeal of this requirement last year but eventually opted for another temporary fix instead, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The programs provide financial aid to hospitals at varying rates, from $246,000 to Erie County's Bertrand Chafee Hospital to as high as $1.7 million to UHS Chenango Memorial Hospital in New York's Southern Tier, according to the article.

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