Pa. Reps. Wild, Meuser partner on bill aiding rural hospitals | Friday Morning Coffee
The proposal would bolster reimbursements for rural teaching hospitals, helping them continue to train physicians
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A bill backed by two members of Pennsylvania’s U.S. House delegation would send badly needed assistance to rural teaching hospitals in the commonwealth and beyond, helping to ensure those institutions are there to train the next generation of medical professionals.
On Thursday, U.S. Reps. Susan Wild, D-7th District, and Dan Meuser, R-9th District, announced they’d reintroduced the legislation, known as the “Fairness for Rural Teaching Hospitals Act,” which would update the calculations the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services use to channel reimbursements to those hospitals.
Wild and Meuser were joined on the bill by U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich.
If it’s eventually signed into law, such institutions as St. Luke’s Miners Memorial Hospital in Coaldale, Pa., and St. Luke’s Easton Campus, which are respectively in Meuser’s and Wild’s districts, would be among the beneficiaries.
Twelve other rural hospitals nationwide also would be impacted by the legislation, Wild and Meuser said in a joint statement.
“Rural hospitals are critically important to the communities they serve and often face simultaneous challenges of keeping their doors open and attracting health care providers,” Wild said, adding that the bill “ensures hospitals receive appropriate reimbursement rates so they can continue to teach and train the next generation of rural health care workers.”
Like other sectors of the economy, the healthcare industry also was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
And in the time since, hospitals around the country, including Pennsylvania, have closed their doors, creating “healthcare deserts” that have left people without easy access to care, according to one analysis.
“Five rural hospitals in Pennsylvania have closed since 2005, leaving thousands with very little healthcare access. The pandemic accelerated the closures, with Chester County losing two hospitals — Brandywine and Jennersville — within two months,” Ryan Costello, a former Republican congressman from southeastern Pennsylvania, wrote in a March 3 commentary published by the Main Line Times.
The closings have “left rural Pennsylvanians with twice as less medical access as our urban counterparts,” Costello wrote.
Because it’s often “overshadowed” by the state’s largest cities, “rural Pennsylvania has always been an afterthought in almost every area, Costello continued.
“According to the Rural Assistance Center, rural communities in Pennsylvania — which consist of 27% of the entire state — suffer from worse income, unemployment, and poverty rates than their urban counterparts,” Costello wrote. “These folks are the ones most vulnerable to their nearby hospitals shutting down, forcing them to travel for hours to find their nearest physician.”
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Rural hospitals are as subject to market factors as any other sector of the economy, two University of Pennsylvania researchers concluded in a June 2022 paper. Prior research showed links between hospital closings and “lower overall employment, and per capita income at the county level,” the Penn study noted.
And with the end of pandemic-era assistance, rural hospitals are girding for another financial hit even as they manage already tight budgets, Capital-Star National Economy Reporter Casey Quinlan wrote in February.
“We are all being forced to try to eke out a sustainable margin because of those [inflation] factors,” Donald Lloyd, the president and CEO of St. Claire HealthCare in Morehead, Ky., told Quinlan. “And then with the potential loss of reimbursement for those who did qualify, that’s just going to add an additional layer of burden upon rural institutions.”
That makes the funding from the new bill critical, Meuser said in the joint statement.
“It’s imperative that our rural hospitals are not deprived of the funding needed to continue offering essential health care services in their communities,” Meuser said.
“It’s also vital that teaching hospitals receive reimbursements that empower them to continue and expand their programs,” the northern Pennsylvania Republican continued.
Wendy Lazo, the president of St. Luke’s Miners Campus, amplified that theme, noting that “with the significant growth of our aging population and the physician shortage already impacting our country, it’s even more critical that Medicare-dependent, rural hospitals offer physician training programs to secure resources for the future.
The current … calculation not only disincentivizes hospitals from making this investment but [it] makes it nearly impossible to do so in any sustainable way,” Lazo said.
Rural teaching hospitals “should not be penalized for providing care to those most in need while educating the next generation of health care workers,” Meuser said.
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