NRHA sends letter to President, other leaders outlining negative impact of proposed cuts

The National Rural Health Association sent the following letter to the White House and Capitol Hill today. NRHA urges you to contact your elected officials now to further explain the implications to your rural community.

Dear Mr. President, Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner:

On behalf of the National Rural Health Association, I write to ask that as you proceed with your work on deficit reduction and an increase in the statutorily allowed debt ceiling, you consider the importance of the rural health care safety net to the millions of Americans who live in rural communities throughout the nation. Both the care provided and the economic support given to rural areas is vital to these communities’ ongoing viability.

NRHA is a national nonprofit membership organization with more than 20,000 members. Our mission is to provide leadership on rural health issues. NRHA membership is made up of a diverse collection of individuals and organizations, all of whom share the common bond of ensuring all rural communities have access to quality, affordable health care.

The obstacles faced by health care providers and patients in rural areas are vastly different than those in urban areas. The 62 million who call rural America home face a unique combination of obstacles to accessing health care, including physician workforce shortages and economic and geographic barriers. Rural hospitals operate on relatively small budgets and are less able to absorb disruptions or reductions in reimbursements. Congress has recognized these barriers and has authorized Medicare reimbursement calculations more appropriate for these facilities’ low patient volume and higher operating costs.

Recent negotiations to reduce budget deficits, however, have targeted this payment structure as a source of potential savings. These cuts would be devastating to both the rural health care safety net and to rural economies. Proposed cuts could result in more than $1 million in cuts to a rural hospital each year. For the majority of rural hospitals whose annual operating budget ranges from $3-6 million, these cuts will force many facilities to offer reduced services or close their doors, further reducing access to care for rural Americans.

Rural hospital closures also devastate local economies. In the past, a closed hospital has meant as much as a 20 percent loss of revenue in the local rural economy, 4 percent per capita drop in income, and a 2 percent increase in the local unemployment rate. In these difficult economic times these repercussions would prove catastrophic for many communities.

We recognize the significant challenges that you have faced while working on a long-term deficit reduction plan. Nonetheless, we urge you to remember the negative economic and health impacts that changes to the current rural hospital reimbursement structure will produce.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments. If you would like additional information, please contact Maggie Elehwany, Vice President of Government Affairs, at [email protected] or 202-639-0550.

Sincerely,

Alan Morgan Chief Executive Officer National Rural Health Association

CC: Vice President Joseph Biden Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin Senate Assistant Minority Leader Jon Kyl House Majority Leader Eric Cantor House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi House Assistant Minority Leader Steny Hoyer