Rural Health Appropriations Update

This week, Congress has focused on finalizing debates regarding FY20 appropriations, and NRHA is proud to report that both chambers are seeking to include funds for a variety of necessary rural health programs in their legislation. Here are the highlights:

  • The newest version of the Senate HELP Committee’s health care cost-cutting legislation extends mandatory funding for Community Health Centers (CHCs), the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) Program at current levels through 2024. Funding these programs is vital to sustaining a rural health care workforce and ensuring access to high quality care in rural communities. NRHA believes that it is essential that funding for these programs be included in the final congressional spending package. 
  • Additionally, the Senate HELP Committee’s legislation neglected to include the onerous reporting requirements for 340B hospitals that were being considered by the committee’s leadership. Thankfully, it appears that the committee members recognized that including these reporting requirements would place an added burden on rural hospitals, the vast majority of which utilize the program just to keep their doors open.
  • The House is scheduled to markup their second appropriations minibus bill (H.R. 3055), which includes $680 million to expand broadband service to provide economic development opportunities and improved education and healthcare services, particularly within rural communities. This legislation also includes $2 million to assist rural hospitals improve long-term operations and financial health via technical assistance and analysis of current hospital management practices. Each of these investments have the potential to create positive economic opportunities for rural hospitals, practitioners, and communities.
  • Also, the first appropriations minibus bill (H.R. 2740) passed by the House included the NRHA requested funds for both the State Offices of Rural Health (12.5M) and the Rural Hospital Flexibility Grants Program (59M). NRHA deeply appreciates the House’s commitment to funding these valuable programs.

While the updates regarding appropriations are positive, we must acknowledge that rural hospitals are continuing to close across the nation, which is devastating health care access in rural America. On Thursday, June 13th, Tennessee lost another rural hospital, Jamestown Regional Medical Center, and due to this newest closure, the number of rural hospitals that have closed since 2010 has increased to 107. We know that more are on the brink of closure since 46% of rural hospitals currently operate at a loss. Therefore, despite good news from Capitol Hill, we must continue to fight tirelessly for access to health care for rural Americans.