WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D–W.Va., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R–Miss., and Reps. Xochitl Torres Small, D–N.M., and Jim Hagedorn, R–Minn., led 49 Members of Congress in strongly encouraging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to quickly provide relief to rural healthcare providers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a press release, on May 21, Manchin, Hyde-Smith, Torres Small and Hagedorn introduced the Save Our Rural Health Providers Act (S.3823/HR.7004) to create a new formula to ensure the Provider Relief Fund has a dedicated set-aside amount directed toward rural areas of America.
A letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar reads in part:
“Rural healthcare was already in crisis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the situation is only getting worse. Last year rural hospitals closures hit a record high, and 2020 is on pace to be even higher. So far this year twelve rural hospitals have closed, with hundreds more on the brink. Given both the cancellation of elective procedures because of the pandemic and the recent spread of COVID-19 in rural America, rural providers have a desperate and immediate need for more funding. Therefore, we request you make this funding available quickly to provide relief to struggling rural health care providers.”
Across rural America, COVID-19 cases are growing 13% faster in rural areas compared to the 9% national rate of growth, according to the release. For two weeks in a row, rural counties have accounted for the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a seven-day period since the pandemic began. June 17–24, rural counties had 23,366 new cases of COVID-19, according to lawmakers. The previous rural cases record was 19,022 new cases from the week of June 9–16. The 60 million Americans living in rural areas generally have more health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, making the rise in cases across rural America a growing concern, lawmakers said.
The letter called on future allocations from the Provider Relief Fund to meet the following metrics:
- A 20% rural benchmark in the Provider Relief Fund
- Priority should be granted to facilities that have been significantly affected by COVID-19 preparation
- Priority should be granted for facilities that provide care for a disproportionately high percentage of Medicare and Medicaid patients
- Priority should be granted for facilities that provide care for populations with above average senior populations or co-morbidities that are particularly vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 and for populations in areas:
- With limited access to health infrastructure
- With high uninsured patients