U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, along with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, sent a letter to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services urging action for vulnerable rural hospitals at risk of closing.
The legislators urged HHS to use its existing authority to provide, on a limited basis, the flexibility for rural hospitals to claim Medicare Critical Access Hospital status, according to the letter. Designating these facilities as CAH would provide some relief and keep essential health services in rural communities, according to a news release.
“When rural hospitals close, they rarely reopen – and these communities are left with a crumbling local economy and without emergency room access,” the legislators wrote.
Congress created the CAH designation in response to the closure of hundreds of rural hospitals in the 1980s and 1990s, the letter said. The designation has been subsequently amended. Since 2010, according to the letter, 108 rural hospitals have closed nationwide, a trend the legislators called “alarming.” In addition, about 46% of rural hospitals are operating on negative margins, which increases the financial risk to the communities they serve.
Kinzinger and Durbin stressed that the CAH designation is a narrow, immediate and “common-sense” way to stop the crisis of hospital closures while long-term solutions are debated and analyzed. The full text of the letter can be found on Kinzinger’s Congressional website.