Rural Healthcare in Crisis Mode

Rural America is facing higher mortality rates and less access to care as more rural hospitals across the country close. To discuss the situation in depth, over 500 rural providers and advocates attended the National Rural Health Association’s Rural Health Policy Institute’s advocacy event held in Washington D.C February 7-9. 2017.

Since 2010, 89 rural hospitals have closed with 673 additional facilities that could possibly close. This represents over one-third of rural hospitals in the U.S. according to data from the Chartis Center for Rural Health Also, CMS reports that 41 percent of rural hospitals now have a negative operating profit margin which puts the rural health safety net under pressure.

If one-third of the rural hospitals close, 11.7 million patients will lose access, 137,000 community jobs will be lost, 99,000 healthcare jobs lost, and $277 billion loss to GDP will occur over ten years.

The NRHA supports not only ending Medicare cuts to rural providers, but also ending unnecessary and burdensome regulations. NRHA wants to see private market reforms create choice and affordability in rural areas, expansion of Medicaid coverage to needy populations, and equitable provider reimbursement.

To help with the critical situation, CMS established the Rural Health Council made up of experts from across the agency. John Hammarlund, CMS Regional Administrator for Region 10 (Seattle) and Cara V. James PhD, Director of the CMS Office of Minority Health, act as Co-Chairs for the CMS Rural Health Council. They both discussed the actions being taken to improve access to care in rural settings.

The Council’s goal is to find ways to support the unique economics of providing healthcare in rural America and study how to make sure that the healthcare innovation agenda deals appropriately with rural healthcare markets.

Supported by the Council, CMS has reached out to stakeholders to hear how to improve access to services for rural communities. In addition, CMS is working with rural health coordinators at each of their ten Regional Offices who meet monthly with HRSA  to discuss emerging issues.

Also, regional advisors in these offices are conducting in-depth listening sessions and provide information of value to stakeholders. Discussions take place on how to increase the use of telemonitoring and telehealth, how to integrate behavioral health and primary care, how to expand chronic care, how Medicare could provide oral health, and how to target education to rural health practices.


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