Our rural hospitals are in crisis. It’s not a new problem, but the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made it worse.
For years, health care costs have risen while Medicare reimbursement rates have fallen. It turned the screw on hospitals everywhere. However, this has been a particular problem for rural America, where people are far more likely to rely on Medicare.
Faced with tighter budgets, rural hospitals have been faced with few good choices. They have to cut costs, find more money or go bankrupt. Unfortunately, many have nothing left to cut, no way to find new income and have been forced to close. Since 2005, more than 170 rural hospitals have closed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the problem worse. Many rural hospitals have been forced to suspend or reduce the number of elective procedures performed. Since this is where many make their money, this made things even more difficult. Today, 453 rural hospitals are currently operating at levels similar to those that closed over the past decade.
Something has to give. We must make real reforms before it is too late. That’s why I’ve joined my fellow California Democrat, Rep. Jared Huffman, in introducing Save America’s Rural Hospitals Act, which would reverse the drop in Medicare reimbursement rates that has pushed many rural hospitals to the brink. chasm.
It permanently ends Medicare sequestration cuts for small hospitals serving our rural communities, giving them the certainty they need to move forward. It also fully funds rural ambulance services to ensure that our ambulance districts are fairly reimbursed for their services. Additionally, it makes permanent enhanced rural telehealth services for rural health clinics and federally licensed health centers, enabling more people in rural America to access home health care.
All of these changes will help get our rural hospitals back on track. It’s more important than ever. We need to protect our rural hospitals. The best way to do this is to give them more certainty and undo years of dangerous cuts. Our small hospitals are a vital lifeline for rural America. I will continue to work to make sure they can keep their doors open and continue to serve the people of rural America who depend on them.
Sam Graves is the U.S. Representative for Mo’s Sixth District.