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March 23, 2020

As Coronavirus Overloads Rural Health System, King Backs Bipartisan Legislation to Keep Hospitals Open and Operating

New bipartisan legislation would sustain rural hospitals and providers while alleviating pressure on urban hospitals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) cosponsored the Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act, legislation aiming at addressing the impending crisis facing our healthcare system as the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic increasingly strains hospitals and providers across the country. To accommodate the millions of anticipated coronavirus cases, state and federal governments have suspended elective surgeries to alleviate pressure on large, urban hospitals. Although this decision is medically necessary given the pandemic, it could force widespread closures among rural hospitals that rely disproportionately on elective procedures to keep their doors open. This new legislation would extend a lifeline to rural hospitals and providers and the 60 million Americans who depend on them for health care. In addition to Senator King, the legislation is supported by Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).

“Maine’s rural hospitals and healthcare providers were already facing tough times – and now, as the impacts of coronavirus change the way we administer healthcare, these challenges are even more pronounced,” said Senator King. “We need to be there for our rural healthcare network today, so they can be ready to respond to this public health emergency and continue to play a vital part in our rural communities in years to come. They have been our lifeline for generations; in this trying time, we need to do the same for them.”

Across the country, rural hospitals, independent physician practices, ambulatory surgery centers, and other outpatient facilities play a critical role in treating cancer, chronic diseases, and other pressing health conditions. Despite these vital services, many rural providers have been forced to close or to dramatically reduce operations, damaging the health and economies of our rural communities. Although 2019 experienced the most closures of rural hospitals in history, 2020 is on pace to double that record. With Maine being one of the most rural states in America, the Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act would direct federal assistance to rural hospitals and providers in order for them to keep their doors open, make payroll for their workers, and continue serving their communities. Open beds in rural hospitals will also become essential to accommodate patient transfers from overwhelmed urban hospitals. Many rural facilities are also equipped to accommodate patients in need of ventilators, which experts predict will be essential to the nation’s pandemic response in the weeks ahead.

The Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act would: 

  • Provide Immediate Relief for Rural Hospitals with an emergency mandatory one-time grant to Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and rural Prospective Payment System (PPS) hospitals equaling $1,000 per patient day for three months.
  • Provide Stabilization for Rural Hospitals with a one-time, emergency grant for CAH and rural PPS hospitals equaling the total reimbursement received for services for three months to stabilize the loss of revenue.
  • Encourage Hospital Coordination with a 20% increase in Medicare reimbursement for any patient in a rural hospital using the swing bed program to incentivize freeing up capacity in larger, overcrowded hospitals.
  • Provide Stabilization and Relief for Providers with an emergency, one-time grant for all providers and ambulatory surgery centers equal to their total payroll from January 1 - April 1, 2019.
  • Provide Funding for Physicians and Providers by authorizing the Small Business Administration to provide low interest loans to providers and ambulatory surgery centers at a 0.25% interest rate that will not accrue until two years after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.

Senator King has pushed the government to quickly act to make sure the country’s medical professionals have the tools they need to stem the spread of coronavirus. Yesterday, he requested answers from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence regarding the status of supplies and equipment to help healthcare providers effectively treat patients while protecting themselves.  On Wednesday, Senator King urged the President to use his existing DPA powers to address the shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators, diagnostic test kits, and other life-saving medical equipment. He has also urged the FCC to expand access to telehealth services in rural communities, and joined the Maine delegation to urge Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to quickly distribute personal protective equipment to Maine.

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