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Deadline Looming for Rural Hospitals

Advocates say failure to renew the programs could force rural hospitals to cut services or close. (Pixabay)
Advocates say failure to renew the programs could force rural hospitals to cut services or close. (Pixabay)
September 18, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. – As many as 25 rural hospitals in Pennsylvania could be in trouble if Congress doesn't act. Two programs that boost Medicare payments to rural hospitals will expire at the end of this month if they are not renewed or replaced.

Hospitals in isolated areas often serve lower numbers of patients and relatively large percentages who are Medicare recipients.

According to Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, the Medicare Dependent Hospital and Low Volume Hospital programs help facilities serving rural communities where the patient populations are older, suffer higher rates of chronic illness, and have lower incomes.

"It's critical for these hospitals that these programs be continued," he stresses. "They're very important to keeping the doors open and the hospitals providing the quality care that both the Medicare beneficiaries and other Americans expect."

A bipartisan bill that would make both programs permanent has been introduced in both the House and the Senate.

The Child Health Insurance Program, serving some nine-million children nationally, also expires on October 1. Kahn says Congress is moving toward extending that program, presenting an opportunity to act on rural hospitals too.

"It's our hope that Congress will choose to attach an amendment to this child health insurance bill and that we will get these adjustments made for Medicare payment into the future," he explains.

Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee announced an agreement to extend the CHIP program another five years.

Kahn points out that extending the Medicare Dependent and Low Volume Hospital programs as well will be critical to the 57 million Americans who depend on rural hospitals for essential health care.

"If we lose this funding, the first questions for many of those running the hospitals will be, "Are there services that could be cut back?" he says. "Eventually it could cause some hospitals to close."

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA