Tester Leads Bipartisan Effort to Support Rural Health Care Providers During COVID-19 Outbreak

Senator: “rural providers have a desperate and immediate need for more funding”

As coronavirus cases surge nationwide, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is leading the fight to make sure rural health care providers are prepared to survive the pandemic and remain ready to continue treating patients.

In a bipartisan, bicameral letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Tester called for quick relief for rural health care providers struggling to keep their doors open during the ongoing health emergency.

“Without further intervention, COVID-19 could close hundreds of rural hospitals across the country, which means tens of thousands of rural patients could lose access to their nearest emergency room,” Tester and his colleagues wrote “The loss of revenue over the last few months, due to the inability to provide non-emergency care, has destabilized core health services in rural America.”

Infection rates have skyrocketed across rural America in recent weeks, with much of the growth occurring in counties with fewer than 60,000 residents. Tester called for at least 20 percent of the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund to be earmarked for a rural providers, with priority given to providers that have seen more cases and have greater numbers of patients on Medicare and Medicaid, and for providers that serve populations that are primarily older.

“Rural health care was already in crisis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the situation is only getting worse,” Tester and his colleagues continued. “…Given both the cancellation of elective procedures because of the pandemic and the recent spread of COVID-19 in rural America, rural providers have a desperate and immediate need for more funding. Therefore, we request you make this funding available quickly to provide relief to struggling rural healthcare providers.”

Tester also called for Azar to deliver Congress a briefing both on how each allocation so far has benefitted rural providers, as well as on your plans for distributing the remaining funds.

Tester has fought tooth and nail to ensure rural health care providers are not left behind during the pandemic. This week, he introduced a resolution condemning the Trump Administration’s reckless effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which rural hospitals and clinics rely on to survive, and he has fought to expand and preserve telehealth access to help folks in rural Montana continue accessing health care during the outbreak. Tester also delivered nearly $200 million in relief funding for 121 rural Montana hospitals, health centers, and clinics.

Full text of Tester’s letter to Azar is available HERE.

Visit tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresources for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak