NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Rural health care in Tennessee could take a big hit if Congress doesn't act. Two federal programs that help provide supplemental funding to rural hospitals will lose their funding at the end of this month. Currently, 34 hospitals in the Volunteer State receive funds to help them keep their doors open, when Medicare funds from services provided fall short of meeting expenses.
Chip Kahn, President & CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, says at least 60 percent of patients at hospitals receiving support are Medicare beneficiaries.
"The trouble is that these communities depend on these hospitals and without these extra resources the hospitals will be constrained and have to make changes," he explains.
Currently there is bipartisan legislation that would provide permanency to both programs. The Rural Hospital Access Act of 2017 is currently in committee. Nationwide, 900 hospitals are at risk of closure because of a reduction in the supplemental funds.
Opponents to the additional rural funding argue it often supplants services that could be provided more cost efficiently elsewhere.
Kahn says the possible closure of hospitals in communities, already facing poverty and a lack of preventive care, will force them to drive further for services that at times require immediate care.
"It actually will lead to sort of a drip drip drip, where birthing services or other types of services that are particularly expensive, those kinds of services will probably begin to decline," he adds.
Beyond concerns over access to health care, hospital systems are the primary employer for well-paying jobs in small towns and cities. Even if they don't immediate close, hospitals could be forced to lay people off in order to keep their doors open.