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Lankford, Durbin, Kinzinger, Loesback Introduce Bill to Support Rural Hospitals

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with Representatives Adam Kinzinger (R-IL-16) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA-02), introduced a new bill to support financially vulnerable rural hospitals facing the risk of closure. The Rural Hospital Relief Act would update Medicare’s “Critical Access Hospital” (CAH) designation so more rural hospitals can qualify for this financial lifeline and continue to serve their communities with quality, affordable health care services. Small hospitals are the backbone of rural communities, and often the largest employers, yet more than 113 rural hospitals have closed nationwide in the past decade, with many more hospitals operating with negative margins.

“Access to rural health care is vital for many of our Oklahoma communities,” said Lankford. “Giving flexibility to states to help designate certain rural hospitals as necessary providers will help with access while maintaining high-quality care for the community. I’m glad to partner with Senator Durbin and Congressmen Kinzinger and Loebsack to help communities continue to provide a vital lifeline and much-needed access to life-saving services for patients.  It is essential that we address the wave of rural hospital closures playing out across the nation, and I am hopeful that this proposal can serve as a critical first step in doing just that.”

“This bipartisan legislation will update Medicare’s rules in order to redouble our commitment to rural hospitals and the communities they serve,” Durbin said. “In Illinois and across the country, rural hospitals are a health care and economic lifeline, and I’m pleased to work with Senator Lankford and Representative Kinzinger to maintain support for these essential health providers.”

“Rural hospitals are a vital lifeline in communities across IL-16 and the country. It’s time for us to take action to help save these vulnerable health facilities facing financial hardships,” said Kinzinger. “I’m pleased to have the support from my House and Senate colleagues, and appreciate their interest in my legislation that will designate these rural facilities as ‘Critical Access Hospitals’ (CAHs) for the people and the communities who truly rely on the services they provide.” 

“We must keep fighting to ensure all Iowans have access to high-quality health care no matter where they live,” said Loebsack. “Critical Access Hospitals, which are the lifeblood of rural communities, play an important role by providing access to primary, emergency, and acute care services. I have visited rural hospitals across Iowa that are struggling, and this legislation will provide them with a path forward. I am pleased to work on a bipartisan basis to ensure these healthcare providers get the support they need and deserve.”

Under CAH status, hospitals are paid a higher Medicare rate—101 percent of their actual costs, rather than set rates per service, as long as they have fewer than 25 inpatient beds; are located 35 miles from other hospitals; maintain the patient length of stays less than 96 hours, and offer 24/7 emergency care. 

The Rural Hospital Relief Act would support rural hospitals by providing flexibility around the 35-mile distance requirement and enabling states to certify a hospital as a “necessary provider” in order to obtain CAH designation.  This authority ended in 2006, but today’s bill would re-open this financial lifeline for certain rural hospitals that serve a low-income community, are located in a health professional shortage area, and have operated with negative margins for multiple years. 

The Rural Hospital Relief Act is supported by the Oklahoma Hospital Association (OHA), Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN), Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA), and National Rural Health Association (NRHA).