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October 21, 2021

Collins, King Urge HHS to Prioritize Rural Health Care Providers’ Access to Critical Federal Funding

Almost half —17 out of 36—of Maine hospitals finished 2020 with a negative operating margin

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) joined Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) in calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to protect rural health care providers’ access to funds set aside for them in the Provider Relief Fund (PRF).

In their bipartisan letter, they urge the agencies to follow Congressional intent behind language included in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – which was passed in March  – approving applications for rural funding only for those providers that meet the clear statutory definition of ‘rural provider.’  During consideration of the FY2021 budget resolution, an amendment Senator Collins authored with Senator Manchin to strengthen the PRF was adopted by a vote of 99-1.  In September, following a successful push led by Senators Collins and Shaheen and joined by Senator King, HHS began distributing the remaining PRF funding to health care providers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had disproportionate impacts on rural communities, which were already experiencing staffing shortages and financial difficulties before COVID-19,” wrote the Senators. “In addition, rural communities are home to more vulnerable populations that are on average older, face higher rates of chronic health conditions and broadly lack access to the high-quality, affordable health care services that residents of urban areas enjoy.”

“Despite this obvious need, rural providers are often excluded from accessing federal funds by flawed definitions of ‘rural’ that are used by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) to determine whether entities are eligible to receive rural health grants from HRSA,” the Senators continued.  

To address this oversight, lawmakers negotiated language with the Biden Administration in the ARPA that more clearly defined the definition of a ‘rural provider’ and noted that certain facilities located in metropolitan areas with smaller populations that serve rural patients are not required to be classified as rural providers, which can help ensure more frontline health care facilities located in rural areas are able to access this critical funding. 

The Senators concluded by urging HHS to consider Congressional intent for the ARPA-Rural fund when approving applications for this funding to ensure rural health care providers have the resources they need to remain in the fight against COVID-19. 

Click HERE to read the full letter.


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