U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today announced her support for legislation to help financially vulnerable rural hospitals keep their doors open by expanding eligibility to higher Medicare payments.

Hyde-Smith is cosponsoring the Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act (S.3103), which would update Medicare Critical Access Hospital (CAH) rules to give states authority to designate additional rural hospitals as CAHs and qualify for higher Medicare reimbursement rates.  A similar policy lapsed in 2006.

“The Critical Access Hospital designation has been a lifeline to many Mississippi rural hospitals.  Allowing states to include more rural hospitals in this program could make the difference in determining whether hospitals remain open to provide care to rural residents,” said Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

“This measure would give the Mississippi Department of Health greater leeway to approve CAH status, and I will continue working with the bill’s authors to improve this legislation so that more rural hospitals in Mississippi can qualify,” she said.

Mississippi has the highest proportion of its rural hospitals classified as “vulnerable” as a percentage of all rural hospitals in the state, according to a Center for Mississippi Health Policy report.

Under CAH status, hospitals are paid a higher Medicare rate—101 percent of their actual costs, rather than set rates per service, as long as they have fewer than 25 inpatient beds; are located 35 miles from other hospitals; maintain patient length of stays less than 96 hours; and offer 24/7 emergency care.

The Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act would support rural hospitals by providing flexibility around the 35-mile distance requirement and enabling states to certify a hospital as a “necessary provider” in order to obtain CAH designation.  This authority ended in 2006, but S.3103 would revive this financial lifeline for rural hospitals that serve low-income communities; are located in a health professional shortage area; and have operated with negative margins for multiple years.

The Mississippi Rural Hospital Association and the National Rural Health Association support S.3103, which was introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.).  A companion bill (H.R.5481) in the House of Representatives is cosponsored by Congressman Michael Guest (R-Miss.).

Related to the ongoing COVID-19 national health emergency, Hyde-Smith in May cosponsored the Save Our Rural Health Providers Act (S.3823), which would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to set aside 20 percent of the total $175 billion Provider Relief Fund for rural health providers.

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Release from Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith.