RALEIGH, N.C. – Rural communities in North Carolina could have reduced access to medical care if Congress doesn’t act before the end of the month. Two federal programs that help provide supplemental funding to rural hospitals will lose their funding if programs aren’t allowed to continue.
Currently, nine hospitals in the Tar Heel State receive funds to help them keep their doors open, when Medicare funds from services provided fall short of meeting expenses.
Chip Kahn, President & CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, says at least 60-percent of patients at hospitals receiving support are Medicare beneficiaries, and closures could force them to drive farther for services that require immediate care.
“It actually will lead to sort of a drip drip drip, where birthing services or other kinds of services that are particularly expensive, those kinds of services will probably begin to decline,” he says.
Currently there is bipartisan legislation that would provide permanency to both programs. The Rural Hospital Access Act of 2017 is currently in committee. Nationwide, 900 hospitals are at risk of closure because of a reduction in the supplemental funds. Opponents of the additional rural funding argue it often supplants services that could be provided more cost efficiently elsewhere.
Kahn says he and others are hopeful that the bipartisan legislation currently before Congress will be passed in time, without getting caught up in the larger health-care debate.
“It’s our hope that, with this bipartisan support, that this won’t be part of the controversial aspect of Washington, but part of the consensus around making our health-care system work, particularly for rural America,” he adds.
Beyond concerns over access to health care, hospital systems are the primary employer for well-paying jobs in small towns and cities. Even if they don’t immediately close, hospitals could be forced to lay people off in order to keep their doors open.