Americans living in small rural communities take great pride in their hometowns. When it comes to their health care, America’s 46 million rural residents want access to basic care within their own communities. Inflation, poor fiscal performance, and a lack of political leadership threaten that access. More than 500 U.S. hospitals are now at risk for closure, impeding access to care in many of these towns. The Biden administration’s latest effort to save these hospitals forgoes a comprehensive strategy for a superficial solution that will result in less local care and worse outcomes for many communities.
On January 1, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule went into effect that allows a critical access hospital to convert to a “rural emergency hospital”—a new designation, defined as a facility which provides emergency and outpatient care, but must forgo inpatient care services and transfer patients within 24 hours to another hospital. This “catch-22” situation risks timely emergency services for rural patients and absolves state and local officials from fighting to preserve access to life-saving medical care.
Saving critical access hospitals that rural Americans depend on for time-sensitive cardiac or stroke care is key to keeping local economies strong and reducing the burden on overflowing metropolitan hospitals. Washington bureaucrats have yet to propose a comprehensive strategy to work with state and local leaders to engage with physicians to solve this problem.