Hospitals face closure as $100B in Medicare loans come due

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/hospitals-face-closure-as-100b-in-medicare-loans-come-due.html?utm_medium=email

HCA posts a billion-dollar profit, bolstered by CARES Act funds - MedCity  News

CMS accelerated payments to hospitals and other healthcare providers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help temporarily relieve financial strain. It’s time to begin repaying the Medicare loans but that isn’t possible for some rural hospitals, according to NPR

CMS expanded the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program in late March to help offset financial damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. CMS announced April 26 that it was reevaluating pending and new applications for advance payments due to the availability of funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. As of May, CMS had paid out $100 billion in advance payments, the bulk of which went to hospitals. 

Hospitals and other healthcare providers are required to start repaying the Medicare loans this month. Most hospitals will have one year from the date the first loan payment was made to repay the loans, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

Ozarks Community Hospital, 25-bed critical access hospital in Gravette, Ark., is one of the hospitals that applied for and accepted the Medicare loans. The hospital also received grants made available under the CARES Act, which do not have to be repaid.

CEO Paul Taylor said Ozarks Community Hospital’s revenue is still constrained, and he doesn’t know how it will pay back its $8 million Medicare loan. Payments for new Medicare claims will be offset to repay the loans, but losing those payments could force the hospital to close, Mr. Taylor told NPR.

“If I get no relief and they take the money … we won’t still be open,” he said.

Ozarks Community Hospital is one of more than 850 critical access hospitals in rural areas that received Medicare loans, according to NPR. Given the shaky financial footing of many rural hospitals before the pandemic, the strain of having Medicare payments withheld could be enough to force others to shut down. 

Before the pandemic, more than 600 rural hospitals across the U.S. were vulnerable to closure, according to an estimate from iVantage Health Analytics, a firm that compiles a hospital strength index based on data about financial stability, patients and quality indicators.

If the financial pressures tied to the pandemic force any of those hospitals to shut down, they’ll join the list of 131 rural hospitals that have closed over the past decade, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

 

 

 

 

Medicaid expansion key indicator for rural hospitals’ financial viability

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/medicaid-expansion-rural-hospitals-health-affairs/579005/

Hospital Closures, Underfunded Health Centers In Ohio Valley ...

Dive Brief:

  • Struggling rural hospitals are faring better financially in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, according to a new Health Affairs study examining 1,004 rural hospitals’ CMS cost reports submitted from 2011 to 2017.
  • Among rural, nonprofit critical access hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid, the median overall margin increased from 1.8% to 3.7%, while it dropped from 3.5% to 2.8% in states that did not expand the program.
  • Tax-exempt status played another key role in determining rural hospitals’ financial viability. During the study period, the median overall profit margin at nonprofit critical access hospitals rose from 2.5% to 3.2%, while it dropped among for-profit operators from 3.2% to 0.4%.

Dive Insight:

The unprecedented financial distress mega health systems are under amid the ongoing pandemic is all too familiar to rural hospitals.

These systems are often smaller, employing fewer specialists and less medical technology, thus limiting the variety of services they can provide and profit on. They remain the closest point of care for millions of Americans, yet face rising closures.

The good news is that most rural hospitals are nonprofit, the designation that fared best in Health Affairs’ six-year study. More than 80% of the 1,004 private, rural hospitals analyzed in the study were nonprofit, while 17% were for-profit.

But researchers found Medicaid expansion played a key role in rural hospitals’ financial viability during the study period, with closures occurring more often in the South than in other regions.

Thirty-seven states have expanded Medicaid under the ACA, but 14 have not, and a majority of them are concentrated in the southern U.S., according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

One of those states is Oklahoma, which on Monday withdrew its planned July 1 Medicaid expansion, citing a lack of funding.

Another factor researchers found positively associated with overall margins and financial viability was charge markups, or the charged amount for a service relative to the Medicare allowable cost. Hospitals with low-charge markups had median overall margins of 1.8%, while those with high-charge markups had margins at 3.5%.

The same is true for occupancy rates. In 2017, rural hospitals with low occupancy rates had median overall profit margins of 0.1% Those with high occupancy rates had margins of 4.7%.

That presents a unique challenge for rural hospitals. Reimbursements from public and private payers do not compensate for fixed costs associated with providing standby capacity, which is essential in rural communities, where few hospitals serve large geographic areas.

Since 1997, CMS has been granting rural hospitals — particularly those with 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds and located more than 35 miles from another hospital — critical access status, reimbursing them at cost for treating Medicare patients.

In the Health Affairs study, critical access hospitals accounted for 21% of the rural hospital bed capacity, with the remaining 79% of bed capacity provided by noncritical access hospitals.

 

 

 

 

At the population level, the coronavirus is almost literally everywhere

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/01/population-level-coronavirus-is-almost-literally-everywhere/?fbclid=IwAR3yWJR5JNinRfMPebVblOi74KdH3klfAKwdf4x_-c6Wf2X0Zt1AyCjkugM&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

At the population level, the coronavirus is almost literally ...

95 percent of Americans live in a county that has reported at least one case.

More than 6 in 10 Americans live in counties where people have died of the disease caused by the coronavirus, and about 95 percent live in places reporting at least one case, according to a Washington Post analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

At the population level, in other words, the virus is almost literally everywhere, turning the epidemic into a crisis directly affecting the lives of nearly every single person in the United States.

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The first coronavirus case in the United States was confirmed on Jan. 20 in a man in Snohomish County, Wash., who had recently visited the epicenter of the global pandemic in Wuhan, China. In just over two months, the virus has spread to more than 2,000 counties representing at least 95 percent of the U.S. population, according to tracking data maintained by Johns Hopkins.

March 13 marks an inflection point in the virus’s spread. That day, it was reported in counties representing more than half the population. Coincidentally, it was a day after Americans woke up to news of travel restrictions on Europe, the cancellation of March Madness and Tom Hanks’s covid-19 diagnosis in Australia.

The virus continued its rapid spread to new segments of the population until about March 21, when confirmed cases reached counties representing 80 percent of Americans. Since then the rate of county-level exposure has slowed somewhat, if only because the virus is running out of new population centers to infect.

As of March 30, nearly every county in the United States with a population of 100,000 or more is reporting at least one coronavirus infection.

These numbers come with caveats. The virus is almost certainly already present in a number counties where no cases have yet been confirmed via testing. Many people who become infected show no or only mild signs of infection, so they may not seek testing. In many regions of the country, there still aren’t enough tests for every potential patient.

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Nevertheless, it’s instructive to see where the virus has not yet been reported. The map above, in which counties with no confirmed cases are in orange, is essentially an inverse population map. The orange counties are some of the least populated in the United States, including the wide belt of sparsely populated counties in the central plains.

These counties represent well over half the country’s land area, but only about 5 percent of its population. Their lack of cases illustrates an obvious but easy to forget point: The virus has a harder time spreading in places with fewer people. Density is one of cities’ great strengths, but during a pandemic it becomes a weakness, allowing an infection to spread rapidly among a tightly packed population.

It’s worth pointing out that while rural counties may be remote, they are not necessarily isolated. People living in these places often routinely travel to cities and towns to shop, receive health care and visit friends and family. Rural areas pride themselves on self-sufficiency, but they are nevertheless connected to the rest of the country via travel and trade.

Some rural areas, particularly vacation and second home destinations, are growing concerned at the prospect of city-dwellers fleeing to the country to ride out the pandemic, potentially bringing the virus with them. Many rural counties lack hospitals, making health care access a challenge even in normal times.

If city transplants cause a coronavirus outbreak disproportionate to the availability of hospital beds in a rural area, the results could be catastrophic.

 

 

 

Bon Secours Mercy Health to furlough 700, estimates $100M monthly operating loss

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/bon-secours-mercy-health-to-furlough-700-estimates-100m-monthly-revenue-loss.html?utm_medium=email

Bon Secours Mercy Health Sells $1.2B Majority Stake in Ensemble ...

Citing a revenue hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health will furlough 700 employees and freeze wages of all nonclinical personnel, according to The Cincinnati Business Journal

The furloughs will affect workers in the system’s shared services business office, which includes entry-level workers and those who are senior vice presidents. No caregiver, pharmacy or supply chain jobs will be affected.

The furloughs are expected to begin next week and last 30 to 90 days, depending on how long the pandemic lasts, according to Bon Secours Mercy Health CEO John Starcher.

The cost-cutting measures are a result of an anticipated decline in revenue due to government-imposed bans on elective procedures. Bon Secours Mercy Health estimates it will see an operating loss of at least $100 million per month while the pandemic lasts.

In addition to the furloughs and wage freeze, the health system is freezing hiring for all noncritical care positions.

“We don’t shy away from making the difficult decisions, and this certainly is one of those, because we always have a mind’s eye on what the long-term ramifications and implications are,” Mr. Starcher told the Business Journal. “We’re laser-focused on making sure this ministry is as successful and vibrant for the next 150 years as it’s been for the last 150.”

 

 

 

 

 

Rural Hospital Closures Reduce Access to Emergency Care

Rural Hospital Closures Reduce Access to Emergency Care

Rural Hospital Closures Reduce Access to Emergency Care

Introduction and summary

The number of rural hospital closures in the United States has increased over the past decade.1 Since 2010, 113 rural hospitals,2 predominantly in Southern states, have closed. This is a concerning trend, since hospital closures reduce rural communities’ access to inpatient services and emergency care.3 In addition, hospitals that are at risk financially are more likely to serve rural communities with higher proportions of vulnerable populations.4

Understanding the financial pressures facing rural hospitals is imperative to ensuring that America’s 60 million rural residents have access to emergency care.5 Rural hospitals are generally less profitable than urban ones, and those with the lowest operating margins maintain fewer beds and have lower occupancy rates. Low-margin rural hospitals are also more likely to be in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to new analysis by the Center for American Progress, future hospital closures would reduce rural Americans’ proximity to emergency treatment. Among low-margin, rural hospitals—those most likely to close—the majority of those with emergency departments are at least 20 miles away from the next-closest emergency department.

This report first discusses the role that hospitals and emergency care play in rural health care as well as trends in hospital closures. It then uses federal data to examine differences in the financial viability of rural and urban hospitals and the availability of hospital-based emergency care in rural areas. The final section of this report offers policy recommendations to improve health care access and emergency care for rural residents.

Rural hospitals have been closing at an unprecedented rate

From 2013 to 2017, rural hospitals closed at a rate nearly double that of the previous five years.6 (See Figure 1) According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), recent rural hospital closures have disproportionately occurred among for-profit and Southern hospitals. Southern states accounted for 77 percent of rural hospital closures over that time period but only 38 percent of all rural hospitals in 20137

Hospital closures may deepen existing disparities in access to emergency care. Closures are more likely to affect communities that are rural, low income, and home to more racial/ethnic minority residents.8 Although about half of acute care hospitals are located in rural communities and the other half are located in urban areas,9 rural residents live 10.5 miles from the nearest acute care hospital on average, compared with 4.4 miles for those in urban areas.10 According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, about one-quarter (23 percent) of rural residents said that “access to good doctors and hospitals” is a problem in their community, while only 18 percent of urban residents and 9 percent of suburban residents said it was a problem.11

A variety of factors influence hospitals’ sustainability. Thanks to medical and technological advances, conditions that once required hospitalization can now be treated in an ambulatory care center or a physician’s office. University of Pennsylvania professor and CAP nonresident senior fellow Ezekiel Emanuel has argued that one reason hospitals are closing is that “more complex care can safely and effectively be provided elsewhere, and that’s good news.”12 As a whole, the hospital industry remains highly profitable, and hospital margins are at their highest in decades.13

Evidence on the relationship between hospital closures and health outcomes is mixed. A 2015 study of nearly 200 hospital closures in Health Affairs found no significant changes in hospitalization rates or mortality in the affected communities, whether rural or urban.14 More recent studies have found an association between rural hospital closures and increased mortality. Harvard researcher Caitlin Carroll showed that rural hospital closures led to an overall increase in mortality rates for time-sensitive health conditions,15 and Kritee Gujral and Anirban Basu of the University of Washington found that rural hospital closures in California were followed by increases in mortality for inpatient stays.16

In rural areas, hospitals face additional challenges to their viability, including lower patient volumes; higher rates of uncompensated care; and physician shortages.17 In addition, rural patients tend to be older and lower income.18 Rural hospitals tend to be smaller, serve a higher share of Medicare patients, and have lower occupancy rates than urban hospitals.19 Rural hospitals commonly offer obstetrics, imaging and diagnostic services, emergency departments, as well as hospice and home care,20 but patients needing more complicated treatment are often referred to tertiary or specialized hospitals. In fact, rural patients are more likely to be transferred to another hospital than patients at urban hospitals.21

Most urban hospitals are reimbursed under the prospective payment systems (PPS) for Parts A and B of Medicare. Through both the inpatient and outpatient PPS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reimburse hospitals at a predetermined amount based on diagnoses, with adjustments—including those for local input costs and patient characteristics.22 However, rural hospitals often face higher costs due to lower occupancy rates and provide care to a higher percentage of patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Such hospitals may be eligible to receive higher payments from Medicare if they qualify as a Sole Community Hospital (SCH) or Medicare-Dependent Hospital (MDH).23

Another form of financial relief for rural hospitals is obtaining designation as a Critical Access Hospital (CAH), which Medicare reimburses based on cost rather than on the PPS.24 To qualify as a CAH, a hospital must provide 24/7 emergency services; maintain no more than 25 beds; and serve a rural area that is 35 miles from another hospital.25 Medicare reimburses CAHs at 101 percent of reasonable costs, rather than through the inpatient and outpatient PPS structures.26 As of 2018, there were 1,380 CAHs nationwide,27 accounting for about two-thirds of all rural hospitals.28

Even with cost-based reimbursement, however, some CAHs are unable to sustain the costs required to maintain inpatient beds.29 The 25-bed limit for CAHs prevent participating hospitals from eliminating inpatient services and restrict their ability to expand in response to fluctuations in community populations or care volumes. Other challenges facing rural hospitals include lacking sufficient patient volume to maintain high-quality performance for certain procedures and pressure to drop high-value but poorly reimbursed services such as obstetrics while maintaining low-volume, high profit services such as joint replacement procedures. 30

A key way that states can support struggling rural hospitals is by expanding Medicaid under the ACA. Expanding Medicaid increases coverage among low-income adults, 31 which in turn reduces uncompensated care costs for hospitals32 and allows financially vulnerable hospitals to improve their viability.33 Consistent with other recent studies,34 the GAO concluded in a 2018 report on rural hospitals that those “located in states that increased Medicaid eligibility and enrollment experienced fewer closures.”35

Rural hospitals are cutting back on services

Rural hospitals in different states have responded to financial pressures in a variety of ways, trying to balance community needs with financial viability. For many hospitals this has meant cutting inpatient obstetric services, leaving more than half of rural counties without hospital obstetric services.36 For instance, in Wisconsin, falling birth rates led to 12 hospitals in the state closing their obstetric services in the past decade.37 In Grantsburg, Wisconsin, lower birth rates and an older community population led Burnett Medical Center to shut down its obstetrics services.38 In order to offer these services, Burnett Medical Center would have needed to keep a general surgeon on call to perform caesarean sections, and with just 40 deliveries in 2017, the hospital could not justify the expense.39 While the hospital will continue providing prenatal and postnatal care, it will refer patients to a facility in Minnesota for deliveries—a facility is almost 40 minutes away.40

In other communities, hospitals have been replaced by other types of health care facilities. For example, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System closed Blowing Rock Hospital in North Carolina in 2013. Three years later, it opened a 112-bed post-acute care center in Blowing Rock in response to demand for rehabilitation services and the aging population in the surrounding area.41

Financial data shows that rural hospitals are more likely to struggle

To compare the financial situations of rural and urban hospitals and examine how future rural hospital closures could affect the availability of emergency care, CAP analyzed data from the CMS Healthcare Cost Report Information System (HCRIS). The CMS requires all Medicare-certified hospitals to report their financial information annually. CAP used the HCRIS to examine the financial margins and other characteristics of 4,147 acute care hospitals for fiscal year 2017. Of these, 1,954 hospitals (47 percent) were in rural areas, while the remaining were in urban areas. Hospitals self-report their status in the HCRIS as either urban or rural, which the CMS defines as either inside or outside of a metropolitan statistical area, respectively.42 Further information about CAP’s hospital sample can be found in the Methodological appendix.

Hospital operating margins, which measure excess patient-related revenues relative to patient-related expenses, are often used as an indicator of financial health.43 A 2011 study by Harvard researchers Dan Ly, Ashish Jha, and Arnold Epstein found that the lowest 10 percent of hospitals by operating margin were 9.5 times more likely to close within two years compared to all others. 44 The same study concluded that hospitals with low operating margins were also more likely to be acquired or merge.45

In CAP’s hospital sample, the median operating margin was negative 2.6 percent among all hospitals, negative 0.1 percent for urban hospitals, and  negative 4.9 percent for rural hospitals.46 Public hospitals and MDHs in the sample were more likely to have negative operating margins, consistent with what other studies have found.47 To analyze hospitals’ relative financial health across geographic areas, CAP ranked hospitals in the HCRIS sample based on operating margin, splitting them into three groups: the lowest 10 percent, the middle 80 percent, and the highest 10 percent. The range of operating margins for each group is shown in Table 1.

Rural hospitals are less likely to be financially healthy than urban hospitals. In 2017, rural hospitals comprised only 27.9 percent of the hospitals with operating margins in the highest decile but comprised 59.7 percent of the hospitals in the lowest decile. Southern and Midwestern states had the greatest proportion of rural hospitals with low operating margins, mimicking the geographic patterns in hospital closures that the GAO report identified. CAP finds that from 2015 through 2017, rural hospitals were consistently more likely than urban hospitals to fall in the bottom 10 percent of operating margins. CAP’s analysis also confirms that rural hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid had a higher median operating margin (negative 3.4 percent) than those in states that have not expanded Medicaid (negative 5.7 percent).

To examine commonalities among the hospitals most vulnerable to closure, CAP analyzed characteristics of the hospitals with low margins, defined as having an operating margin in the lowest 10 percent among all hospitals. Smaller, low-occupancy rural hospitals were most likely to struggle financially: nearly 1 in 6 (15 percent) of hospitals with 25 or fewer beds had low margins, and nearly one-fifth (17 percent) of hospitals with low-occupancy rates had low margins. (See Figure 3)

Emergency departments are on the front lines for rural health

In some emergency situations, hospital closures can be life-threatening, increasing the time and distance patients travel to receive care. Studies show that the probability of dying from a heart attack increases with distance from emergency care,48 and traumatic injuries are more likely to be fatal for rural residents than for urban ones.49

Rural residents are more likely than urban residents to visit the emergency department.50 A shortage of primary care providers; lack of public transportation infrastructure; shortages in preventive care; higher rates of smoking and obesity; and greater prevalence of chronic disease in rural areas all contribute to the greater utilization of emergency room care.51 As a result, emergency departments often stand in as the main source of care for vulnerable and low-income populations, especially for communities that face a shortage of primary care. 52 Among the dozens of rural hospitals that have closed in recent years, some served as the only emergency department in a community, according to MedPAC53

While freestanding emergency departments have proliferated,54 they are not filling the gap for rural emergency care. MedPAC found that, as of 2016, nearly all the country’s 566 stand-alone emergency departments were in urban areas and tended to be located in more affluent communities.55 Researchers at the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program found that the freestanding emergency department model was generally not viable in rural areas of the state due to low patient volumes, high rates of uninsured patients, and provider shortages.56 One limit on the growth of independent freestanding emergency centers is that they are not recognized in Medicare law and are therefore unable to bill the program, unlike hospital-affiliated off-campus emergency departments. 57

Future rural hospital closures would increase the distances that patients travel for emergencies

To better understand how future rural hospital closures could affect access to emergency care, CAP calculated hospitals’ distance to the next-closest hospital-based emergency department. CAP restricted its 2017 HCRIS data sample to the 3,616 acute care hospitals that provide 24-hour emergency services.58 Using addresses or coordinates provided in the HCRIS, CAP mapped each low-margin rural hospital to the next-closest hospital emergency department. Mapping strategies are detailed in the Methodological appendix.

Among the 222 low-margin rural hospitals, more than half (55 percent) were more than 20 miles away from the next-closest hospital-based emergency department, and one-tenth were more than 35 miles away. (See Figure 4). The average distance to the next-closest emergency department was 22 miles.

The disappearance of rural, low-margin hospitals would greatly increase patients’ travel distances for emergency care. Without other resources to fill the gap, some patients might forgo care they need and others would be forced to undertake an even longer journey to receive medical attention.

Policies to improve rural emergency and nonemergency care

As rural hospitals continue to close, it is crucial to preserve access to emergency care for rural Americans. The following section details a series of policy recommendations to support adequate emergency care and address care shortages in rural communities.

Expand Medicaid

Experience to date suggests that rural hospitals in those states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid programs under the ACA would benefit from Medicaid expansion through lower levels of uncompensated care and increased financial sustainability. Medicaid expansion is associated with improvements in health and a wide variety of other outcomes, including lower mortality, less uncompensated care, and lower rates of medical debt.59 According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 4.4 million adults would gain Medicaid eligibility if the remaining 14 nonexpansion states expanded their programs.60

Policymakers can also support rural communities and their hospitals by opposing efforts to repeal the ACA. If the Trump administration-backed lawsuit against the ACA were to succeed, 20 million Americans would lose health insurance coverage, and uncompensated care would rise by $50 billion, according to the Urban Institute.61

Create a greater number of rural emergency centers

To preserve access to emergency care, Congress could allow rural hospitals like CAHs to downsize to an emergency department and eliminate inpatient beds without giving up special Medicare reimbursement arrangements. Qualifying hospitals could transfer patients requiring inpatient admission to other hospitals, while continuing to offer some diagnostic imaging and other outpatient services.

One such proposal is the Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital Act (REACH Act), bipartisan legislation proposed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that would create rural emergency centers.62 This designation would allow hospitals to provide only emergency care in rural communities and receive Medicare reimbursement at 110 percent of operating costs. Separately, MedPAC has recommended that rural hospitals located more than 35 miles from the nearest emergency department be allowed to convert to freestanding emergency departments while still being reimbursed at hospital rates.63

Institute global budgeting for rural hospitals

Under global budgeting, hospitals are paid a fixed amount rather than having their reimbursements based on the volume and types of services they provide.64 Global budgeting can reduce small, rural hospitals’ financial risk by providing them with a more predictable stream of revenue. In addition, payment reforms that include both hospital and nonhospital care can encourage communities to invest in services that are typically less generously reimbursed, such as preventive care.65

For example, in 2014, Maryland transitioned its acute hospitals from fee-for-service payments to a global budget.66 An evaluation of the global budget program showed that it reduced hospital expenditures relative to trend without transferring costs to other parts of the health care system.67 Future global budgets should emphasize improvements in population health and primary care,68 including ensuring that patients receive care in appropriate settings and reducing the number of avoidable hospital visits.

The Pennsylvania Rural Health Model is the first Medicare demonstration project to test the financial viability and community effects of a global budget for strictly rural hospitals.69 This six-year program aims to smooth out cash flow for 30 rural Pennsylvania hospitals on a monthly basis with the goal of enabling hospitals to meet community needs, especially for substance-use disorder and mental health services.70 With global budgets based on the previous year’s revenues, participating hospitals will have a more predicable stream of revenue. Importantly, the program allows hospitals to share in the savings that result from avoidable utilization.71

Improve transportation for rural residents

The lack of transportation infrastructure can lead rural residents to rely on ambulances and emergency rooms for nonemergency care. In nonemergency situations, patients often cite the lack of affordable transportation as a major barrier to care access.72 In order to fill the gap, payers and policymakers should consider efforts to utilize existing community transit resources for medical transportation or reimburse patients who use ride-sharing services in areas that lack public transit or taxi services. 73 Another option would be to formalize volunteer services for medical transit. Oregon offers a tax credit for volunteer rural emergency medical services (EMS) providers, who provide medical and transportation services analogous to those of volunteer firefighter programs.74 The CMS should also consider policies to better reimburse and expand the use of telehealth in remote areas to reduce patients’ burden of transportation.75 Finally, the CMS should stop approving states’ requests to waive coverage of nonemergency medical transportation (NEMT) requirements under Medicaid.76 NEMT is vital to eligible beneficiaries’ access to care, including appointments for preventive care, chronic disease management, and substance-use disorder treatment.

Strengthen the rural health care workforce

Rural health care provider shortages contribute to poorer access to care and poorer quality of care in rural communities. While 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, only 9 percent of primary care physicians practice in rural areas.77 Greater access to primary care providers in rural areas would improve quality of care and health outcomes while also reducing unnecessary emergency department visits.78

One way to assist rural areas would be to encourage health professionals to train and work in underserved communities. Federal funding for physician training should include reimbursements for community-based sites so that medical residents can rotate through nonhospital settings.79 Expanding the National Health Service Corps—which provides scholarships and student loan repayment for professionals who work in federally designated health professional shortage areas—could also help bolster the rural workforce. In addition, changes to immigration policy—such as expanding the Conrad 30 program that funnels immigrant doctors into rural and underserved communities, reforming H-1B visas to benefit high-need communities—could help alleviate rural areas’ shortage of medical professionals.80

Conclusion

Mounting closures of rural hospitals across the country are exacerbating the disparity in health care access between rural and urban areas. The financial vulnerability of the remaining rural hospitals suggests that the trend may continue, leaving shortages in emergency care and other hospital services.

Policymakers should support initiatives that allow remaining rural hospitals the flexibility to tailor their services to meet community needs and improve access to care for rural Americans.

 

 

 

 

The hospitals staying silent on Medicare for All

https://www.axios.com/hospitals-medicare-for-all-health-care-bernie-sanders-5d28dc00-05cd-411b-98cc-556ddfa12c9b.html

Doctors and nurses treat a patient in a hospital trauma room.

Large hospital systems and trade groups have vociferously criticized Democrats’ “Medicare for All” proposals, but rural facilities and public hospitals that treat mostly low-income patients are sitting on the sidelines of the debate.

Why it matters: Safety nets and many rural hospitals could hypothetically benefit under Medicare for All, but expressing support would put them at odds with their larger brethren.

Between the lines: The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future has become one of the loudest industry-funded voices against Medicare for All.

  • Pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and others are part of PAHCF. But 10 hospital systems and lobbying groups, like Ascension and the American Hospital Association, drive PAHCF.
  • Chip Kahn, the head of the Federation of American Hospitals, said PAHCF was his “brainchild,” according to Modern Healthcare.

Yes, but: Some hospital constituencies aren’t part of the anti-single-payer lobbying.

  • America’s Essential Hospitals, the trade group for safety net hospitals, and the National Rural Health Association, which represents rural hospitals and providers, are not part of PAHCF. They also don’t have official positions on Medicare for All.
  • A spokesperson for AEH said the group recognizes industry peers “have raised reasonable questions” about Medicare for All, but “our focus right now is where our members want it: on stopping the $4 billion cut” to supplemental Medicaid payments.
  • “With specific legislation not moving forward at this time, I don’t see us weighing in anytime soon,” NRHA CEO Alan Morgan said. “I don’t see us at odds. We just haven’t entered the national debate yet.”
  • In an interview, Kahn would not discuss on the record why those two groups were not part of PAHCF.

The big picture: Hospitals that mostly care for poor and uninsured patients could see higher, more stable revenues if everyone had Medicare — a program that often pays higher base rates than Medicaid and infinitely higher rates than nothing at all.

  • Cook County’s public hospital system in Chicago, for instance, gets 79% of its gross patient revenue from the uninsured and Medicaid. That system and multiple other hospitals did not respond to interview requests.
  • Separately, Medicare pays rural “critical access” hospitals 101% of their allowable costs, although those payments have suffered since Congress instituted mandated cuts in 2013.

The intrigue:If you’re trying to solve the problem that we want to get everybody covered and we want to level the playing field between the hospitals that take care of the poor people and hospitals that take care of the rich people, Medicare for All is something we better take a look at,” Eric Dickson, CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care, told Politico.