As today marks the 50th Anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing Medicare and Medicaid into law, the National Rural Health Association recognizes the importance Medicare has on access to care in rural America.
Medicare serves a disproportionate number of rural Americans. Twenty-three percent of Medicare beneficiaries live in rural America, while only 20 percent of the population resides in rural America. Rural beneficiaries are more likely to be dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid than their urban counterparts.
Medicare – a major component of rural health care – pays rural providers less than their urban counterparts. Medicare spends 2.5 percent less on rural beneficiaries than it does on urban beneficiaries. Rural health care providers operate on very thin margins and many rural communities have severe medical workforce shortages. Yet, rural physicians, who put as much time, skill and intensity into their work as their urban counterparts, are reimbursed at lower rates.
Continued cuts in hospital reimbursements have taken their toll, forcing far too many rural hospital closures and leaving many of our nation’s most vulnerable populations without timely access to care. Fifty-five rural hospitals have closed since 2010; 283 more are on the brink of closure. Since the start of 2013, more rural hospitals have closed than in the previous 10 years—combined. If Congress allows these 283 rural hospitals on the brink to close, then 700,000 patients would lose direct access to care.
And this loss of access will result in increased Medicare expenditures. Rural hospitals provide cost-effective primary care. It is 2.5 percent less expensive to provide identical Medicare services in a rural setting than in an urban or suburban setting. This focus on primary care, as opposed to specialty care, saves Medicare $1.5 billion per year. Quality performance measurements in rural areas are on par if not superior to urban facilities. That is why NRHA fully supports the Save Rural Hospitals Act introduced earlier this week by Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa). This important bill will not only stabilize rural hospitals but also presents a new rural model to keep access to health care in rural communities.
As we celebrate this milestone for Medicare, NRHA asks members of Congress to remember how Medicare provides access to care for the older, sicker and more vulnerable populations, and to consider the impact of access to care Medicare provides. Medicare serves an essential role in ensuring access to necessary health care that meets the unique needs of rural communities.
As we look toward the next 50 years of Medicare, more must be done to ensure rural Americans have access to the health care resources necessary to allow them to lead healthy lives.
Learn more about Medicare’s impact on rural America and the Save Rural Hospitals Act at 1 p.m. CDT today (Thursday) during a free NRHA grassroots advocacy call.