U.S. Reps. Dr. Mark Green (R-TN-07) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS-02) on Thursday introduced a new bipartisan bill to boost rural hospitals, Green said in a press release.
The Rural Health Care Access Act of 2019 would repeal what Green called an arcane rule – “the 35-mile rule” – that bars hospitals from pursuing a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) designation. Currently, a rural hospital must be at least 35 miles away from another hospital to receive the CAH designation. If passed into law, this bill would allow states to designate a facility as a CAH if it meets all the other requirements. Those requirements include:
- The hospital must have 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds.
- Must provide 24/7 emergency care services.
- The average length of stay for acute care patients must be 96 hours or less.
“Folks living outside cities must not be left without health care access,” Green said. “We need to act now to remove old, onerous federal regulations and update our laws so that rural communities get the care they need.”
Thompson said, “Rural hospitals are an integral part of the rural healthcare system. We must make sure rural communities have the same access to health care as urban areas.”
The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) has endorsed the bill.
“Rural hospitals are closing in communities where access to care is needed the most,” said Alan Morgan, CEO, NRHA “This important bill will go far in stabilizing the rural hospital closure crisis, by allowing rural hospitals to convert to Critical Access Hospital safety net providers. NRHA applauds Representatives Green and Thompson for fighting to save rural patients’ access to care.”
The CAH designation reduces the financial vulnerability of rural hospitals and improves access to healthcare by keeping essential services in rural communities, Green said. Specifically, Critical Access Hospitals receive cost-based reimbursement from Medicare; flexible staffing and services; access to Flex Program educational resources, technical assistance and/or grants; and the ability to include capital improvement costs in allowable costs for determining Medicare reimbursement.
Tennessee has seen more rural hospitals close than any other state in the U.S. except Texas, and more are expected to close if action is not taken soon, Green said. Half of Mississippi rural hospitals, too, are at risk of closing soon.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.