Congressional Column: Rep. Sam Graves

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Congressional Column: Rep. Sam Graves

Congress Must Stop The Rural Hospital Closure Crisis

We have a crisis in rural health care. In my district, which consists of mostly rural areas, we’ve seen several hospitals close or reduce services. Others are doing everything they can to keep the doors open. However, the problem certainly isn’t limited to north Missouri. We are seeing it across the country.

As of April 2018, 83 rural hospitals have closed, and 673 more are on the brink of closure. Nearly 12 million Americans living in rural areas are at risk of losing access to the closest emergency room. This comes as nearly 80 percent of rural counties are facing primary care health professional shortages, and 9 percent have no physician at all. These closures have left millions of Missourians, particularly the elderly, exposed during times of medical emergency.

Hospitals in rural communities, like my local hospital in Fairfax, Mo., are hugely important to our local economies and ensuring people can continue to live in rural communities without worrying about access to adequate medical care. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to stop the impending flood of rural hospital closures and provide needed access to care for rural America. The Save Rural Hospitals Act would eliminate the Medicare Sequester for rural hospitals and provide a permanent extension of the rural ambulance and super-rural ambulance payments.

Furthermore, the Save Rural Hospitals Act eliminates burdensome regulations, such as the “96 hour rule,” which forces rural hospitals to transfer or discharge a patient within 96 hours for the hospitals to get paid under Medicare. It also changes the way Recovery Audit Contractors burden hospitals with unnecessary audits. Finally, this bill provides an innovative new model for rural hospitals that continue to struggle. The Community Outpatient Hospital model will ensure access to emergency care and allow hospitals the choice to offer outpatient care that meets the population health needs of their rural community.

It is evident that rural health care is a different type of animal that merits a different approach. Rural hospitals typically care for residents who are older, poorer and have higher rates of chronic disease than those who live in more urban areas. My legislation shines a light on the rural health crisis in Missouri and across the country. If we accept this reality and neglect this much needed conversation, rural hospitals in Missouri will continue to close. Every rural hospital closure leaves thousands more without access to health care, which puts lives in jeopardy. This simply is not acceptable, and I will continue to fight in Congress for quality health care for rural America.