The AHA yesterday urged President Trump and the Department of Health and Human Services to continue to act on behalf of rural hospitals and health systems to address rural health care concerns. In a letter to the president, AHA recommended steps that support rural hospitals that are facing dire circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were pleased by your Aug. 3 Executive Order on improving rural health and telehealth access,” AHA wrote. “The order underscored the imperative to advance rural health with its call for a new rural payment model, investment in rural health care infrastructure, and initiatives to improve rural health outcomes.” 

In the letter, AHA urged HHS and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to:

  • Establish a new Medicare designation that would allow rural hospitals to provide emergency and observation services without the provision of inpatient services;
  • Re-open the necessary provider Critical Access Hospital program;
  • Extend payment programs to support rural hospitals, such as the low-volume adjustment;
  • Create a Rural Design Center within the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to allow for the development, testing, improvement and scaling of voluntary, rural-specific models;
  • Test and expand voluntary payment models for rural providers that offer financial certainty and are less vulnerable to volume shifts, such as global budgets;
  • Extend the Rural Community Hospital and Frontier Community Health Integration Project programs; 
  • Increase funding for physical and communications infrastructure, including additional funds for the Federal Communications Commission Rural Health Care Program;
  • Develop and implement initiatives that improve patient access to behavioral and maternal health services, including increased coverage;
  • Expand current workforce recruitment and retention programs that aid rural areas;
  • Develop additional strategies to address workforce shortages, such as investing in pipeline programs and community partnerships;
  • Lift Medicare-funded residency slot caps to expand training opportunities and help address health professional shortages; and
  • Provide regulatory relief to promote rural health care access including flexibilities to share treatment space, removal of restrictive conditions of payment for CAHs, and improvements to the Physician Self-Referral (Stark) Law and Anti-Kickback Statute.

AHA also urged the administration to safeguard the 340B program from efforts to scale it back and ensure that these rural hospitals can continue to serve their vulnerable communities. 

Read the letter for more details.

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