U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) late Friday led a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services strongly encouraging the agency to quickly provide relief to rural healthcare providers increasingly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter, signed by 49 members of Congress, including U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Representatives Trent Kelly (R-Miss.) and Michael Guest (R-Miss.), seeks a dedicated 20 percent Provider Relief Fund set aside for rural America.
“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,” the lawmakers wrote to HHS officials. (A copy of the letter is available here.)
COVID-19 cases are growing 13 percent faster across rural America compared to the 9 percent national rate of growth. For two weeks running, rural counties have accounted for the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a seven-day period since the pandemic began. From June 17-24, rural counties had 23,366 new COVID-19 cases. The previous rural cases record was 19,022 new cases from the week of June 9-16.
The rise in cases across rural America represents a growing concern considering that the 60 million Americans living in rural areas generally have more health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
In all, 49 Senators and Members of the House signed the letter calling on future allocations from the Provider Relief Fund to meet the following metrics:
- A 20 percent 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 disproportionally 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 levels of uninsured patients.
The metrics recommended in the letter match those included in the Save Our Rural Health Providers Act (S.3823/HR.7004), which would create a new formula to ensure the Provider Relief Fund has a dedicated set-aside amount of funding directed toward rural areas of United States. Hyde-Smith, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Representatives Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) and Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.) introduced the legislation in May.