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U.S. Senate Hearing Focuses on Rural Health

May 16, 2024

Rural hospitals need support to address the unique challenges that threaten their ability to deliver care, a panel of experts testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee today.

High-operating costs, low reimbursements and volumes, and staffing shortages have placed hundreds of hospitals on the brink of closure, said Michael Topchik, executive director, Chartis Center for Rural Health.

“The fact that 50 percent of rural hospitals are operating in the red and nearly 420 are vulnerable to closure should serve as an urgent call to accelerate efforts at the state and national levels to reinforce the rural health safety net and ensure access to care for under-resourced and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities,” Topchik said in prepared testimony.

Among the key takeaways from today’s hearing:

  • Taking action:  Rural hospitals are forming partnerships with higher education and high schools to help young people enter the workforce. They also are creating innovative housing initiatives to support their staff and build their teams.
  • Coverage questions:  Changes in commercial coverage and the growth of Medicare Advantage plans (48% from 2019 to 2023) has had uneven impact for rural residents, with coverage denials and prior authorizations raising concerns for access to care.
  • Facing closure:  Since 2010, 170 rural hospitals have closed, and half of rural hospitals are operating in the red. Nearly 420 additional hospitals are vulnerable.
  • Maternal deserts:  During the last decade, 25 percent of the nation’s rural obstetrics have closed, Topchik said.
  • Valuable affiliations:  Affiliations have been a key strategy to support rural hospitals, but it is not a panacea to ensure these facilities remain anchors within their communities, the panelists noted.
  • Advocacy initiatives:  Increasing access to telehealth, adequate federal funding and reimbursement, investment in graduate medical education slots, and easing regulatory burdens can help support rural hospital sustainability.

Pennsylvania's rural hospitals support 69,500 jobs and drive $14 billion in economic impact. HAP continues to highlight the needs of Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals and advocate for the resources to help them thrive. Learn more about our key priorities for rural hospitals.

This morning’s hearing is available online.

For more information, contact John Myers, vice president, federal advocacy, and Kate Slatt, vice president, policy and care delivery.