As Rural Hospitals Face up to 80 Percent Revenue Drop, Tester Warns ‘tens of thousands of rural patients will lose access'
Senator calls on Department of Health and Human Services to set aside funding for rural hospitals that are struggling to stay open amid COVID-19 crisis
With rural hospitals facing a significant hit-on average, 50 to 80 percent-to their revenue streams since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester led a bipartisan group of colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to set funding aside specifically for facilities in rural areas.
Tester and his colleagues are urging Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to guarantee that a portion of a $100 billion Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund will go towards reimbursing rural providers for health care-related expenses or lost revenues that are attributable to COVID-19.
"Without intervention, COVID-19 will close hundreds of rural hospitals across the country, and tens of thousands of rural patients will lose access to their nearest emergency room," wrote the Senators in a letter to HHS. "The loss of revenue over the last few weeks, due to the inability to provide non-emergency care, is destabilizing core health services in rural America... We share significant concerns that the $100 billion provider fund will not be equitably distributed to small rural hospitals, critical access hospitals and other rural providers who are in grave need of help."
The funding for the $100 billion Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund was allocated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which passed Congress with Tester's support. The Senators are working to ensure that an equitable portion of this funding goes to rural hospitals that are already struggling to keep their doors open.
Nearly one in five Americans live in rural areas and rely on local hospitals for care. Prior to the pandemic, nearly half of rural hospitals were already struggling to maintain services, many even operating at a loss as closure rates of these frontier facilities was increasing radically nationwide. Cash shortages due to the COVID-19 crisis have left many of these already vulnerable hospitals no choice but to furlough staff, institute massive cuts, or close altogether.
The Senators are proposing that HHS institute the following metrics to help rural hospitals continue to serve their communities:
- A 20 percent Rural Benchmark in the $100 billion provider fund.
- Priority should be granted to facilities that have been significantly affected by COVID-19 preparation.
- Priority should be granted for facilities that provide care for a disproportionally high percentage of Medicare and Medicaid patients.
- Priority should be granted for facilities that provide care for populations with above average senior populations or co-morbidities that are particularly vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.
Tester has been working tirelessly to ensure that Montana hospitals are prepared to combat the COVID-19 crisis. Yesterday, he secured $9.1 million for Montana Community Health Centers to respond to the pandemic, and secured an additional $3 million for the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council Public Health Workforce Expansion in Indian Country. He recently demanded that the Trump Administration not leave rural hospitals behind in their coronavirus response, and he voted to deliver critical, urgent relief to Montana hospitals, workers, families, small businesses, and others hardest hit by the outbreak, which included $1.25 billion for the state of Montana.