Rural hospitals closing at alarming rate

alan morgan1In the past year alone, more rural hospitals closed than in the prior 15 years combined. This is a staggering fact, which is under reported by national media.

When a rural hospital closes, the community often also loses affiliated rural health clinics, local ambulance service, mental health services, long-term care, rural surgery, rehab, home health and other vital services as well. What our nation is currently experiencing is the devastation, and in many cases the elimination, of the rural health safety net.

The reasons are many which include:

– Medicare reductions included within the Affordable Care Act
– Failure to expand state Medicaid
– Medicare reductions included in sequestration
– Congressional reductions to rural Medicare payments
– Regulatory changes imposed by CMS
– Population shifts and other market force impacts

More than half of all rural hospitals are currently experiencing negative total margins. The data is clear: rural health care access is not sustainable without targeted policy changes.
Meanwhile, as individual states explore rural hospital rescue policies, both Congress and the Administration are exploring new ways to further cut payments to rural hospitals. This is despite the fact that according to data released at the National Rural Health Association’s 37th Annual Conference last week, rural hospital charges are 63 percent less than urban hospitals, and the Medicare program spends per beneficiary 2.5 percent less than urban. 

Exactly how many rural hospitals must close to gain the attention of policy makers in Washington, D.C.?

Rural advocates have long argued that rural health care is like arctic tundra, once stepped on, it will never return. As a nation, we are now seeing this play out in real-time. For rural Americans, it is time to ask policymakers what their intentions are and how they propose to preserve the rural lifestyle so many of us have come to love. At NRHA, we have developed policy proposals to keep rural hospitals open, and we will continue to serve as your voice for rural health.

It’s time to take action, raise the rural voice, and halt the trend of rural hospital closures.