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Since 2010, Georgia has had eight rural hospitals close. Nationwide, that number is more than 130. Covid-19 exacerbated an already bad situation and the rate of closures picked up, with more than 20 closing last year. Patients were putting off treatment and appointments, and hospitals had limits anyway, and these low patient volumes made the already significant financial strain catastrophic.

In rural areas that are already operating under more limited healthcare resources, fewer hospitals, fewer doctors, a closing hospital can have significant impact on a small town. The doctors and nurses that work at the hospital may have to look for work elsewhere, not only taking their income, spending and tax revenue somewhere else, they may have to move, impacting the population of an area.

Businesses are less likely to expand or locate in areas with limited healthcare resources so economic development is also impacted by these closures.

In light of all that, on Tuesday, Georgia Representative Drew Ferguson (R-3) and Rep. Terri Sewell from Alabama (D-7) introduced legislation to help slow closures by raising the rate of Medicare hospital reimbursement.

“By raising the Medicare reimbursement levels for rural hospitals, we will be strengthening health care for our rural and underserved communities,” Ferguson said. “Georgia has one of the lowest reimbursement rates nationwide, and we must ensure a level playing field for rural hospitals in the Peach State – and across the country. I am proud to work with Representative Sewell on this bipartisan legislation.”

The legislation would establish a national minimum for the Medicare Area Wage index (the measurement that is used to calculate reimbursements) and preserve the existing reimbursement for urban hospitals.

“As we continuously work to rebuild after the devastation of the past year, it is critically important that we acknowledge the lasting impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on rural hospitals across this nation,” Sewell said. “Even before the pandemic, rural hospitals struggled with inadequate reimbursements, low volume, and high operating costs. Now it is imperative that we provide the reimbursements these hospitals so desperately need. That is why I am proud to introduce the Save the Rural Hospitals Act of 2021 to ensure those in rural and underserved communities continue to receive the quality, affordable care they deserve.”

Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate by Georgia’s Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), John Corryn (R-TX), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Tim Kaine (D-VA). Some big names and plenty of bipartisanship. Look for this legislation to get traction and hopefully help stave off any more rural Georgia hospital closures for some time.

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