HHS report on critical access hospitals misses the mark

As if rural health care providers needed another reason to distrust Washington…

A report released early this morning by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) skewers critical access hospitals (CAHs).

The 34-page report outlines an HHS study of CAHs and concludes that states’ rights just aren’t that important and that hundreds of hospitals in rural America should lose a vital Medicare designation that supports rural, community hospitals throughout the nation.

“This report would seek to kill rural health care,” says National Rural Health Association CEO Alan Morgan. “If the full report were implemented, it would result in shutting down up to 70 percent of a state’s rural hospitals.”

Congress must reject the recommendations in this report and take affirmative action to protect rural hospitals across America. NRHA prepared talking points for Congress and urged its more than 21,000 members to contact their elected officials.

CAHs are small, rural hospitals that are crucial to the rural health care delivery system. These facilities provide care for the 62 million Americans who have chosen to live in rural areas of our nation, all while facing substantial challenges. CAHs have a higher percentage of indigent and elderly patients than their urban and suburban counterparts and have a much harder time recruiting and retaining health care providers. But rural providers are nothing if not resilient. These facilities have provided needed emergency, inpatient and primary care locally for years.

The CAH designation was created by Congress in 1997 to help ebb the flow of hospital closures in rural America. As part of this initial law, Congress delegated some authority to the states to help identify facilities that were “necessary providers” of health care in their states. States were careful in deciding who should get this designation and established metrics for CAH status based on poverty, unique state geography and the absence of health care providers in specific locales.

Congress’ plan worked, and access to reliable, local health care was stabilized for rural Americans. The tide of hospital closures stopped. The recommendations in this report, however, threaten to eviscerate the progress made in rural health care over the past 16 years. By stripping CAH status from more than 800 rural hospitals, putting access to quality health care – and indeed the rural way of life in our nation – at jeopardy.

The full report is available here. Stay tuned to NRHA’s blog.

Call your reps at 202-224-3121.