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Rural America’s Access to Health Care Slowly Shrinking

Posted on in HME Government Issues

By: Collin Brecher, VGM Government Relations

Access to health care in rural areas is beginning to fade. From critical access hospitals to home medical equipment providers, health systems often rely heavily on one another to continue to serve the members of their communities. The impact of rural hospital closures on nearby residents often highlights the role Medicare cuts play in access to health care.

According to Kaiser Health News, more than 50 rural hospitals have closed in the last six years, and nearly 300 across the country are struggling financially. Reduced Medicare payments and federal subsidies for uninsured patients are among the causes for hospital closings. Stories of rural Americans harmed by lack of access to medical care due to challenges faced by rural hospitals are becoming increasingly common.

Cuts affect emergency hospital access

About a dozen rural Stewart County, Georgia, residents have either died or been harmed due to delays in access to medical care since the county’s only hospital was closed in 2013, said Sybil Ammons, the county coroner. She said the hospital’s closing negatively impacted people in need of care for traumas, stroke and heart attacks. Ammons, the closed hospital’s former director of nursing, discussed challenges faced by her county’s rural residents in a recent story by Kaiser Health News and PBS Newshour.

In another story, a rural Florida resident recounted that after she was severely burned in a four-wheeler crash, her boyfriend drove her past the local hospital that had closed months earlier. Instead, she had to take a 100-mile flight to a Gainesville hospital where, an hour and a half after she was injured, doctors were able to begin treating the burns that covered nearly 50 percent of her body.

Cuts affect access, quality of HME supplies

Rural patients are not only having to travel farther for emergency care, millions of the most vulnerable Americans will face increasingly limited access to vital health care supplies as the home medical equipment industry confronts challenges similar to those of rural hospitals.

Patients in rural America are already receiving inadequate equipment and supplies because of competitive bidding. A patient went into a diabetic coma because of low-quality diabetic testing strips that were a “direct result of suppliers having to look at alternative vendors/products,” according to a story submitted to DearMedicare.com.

Will July bring an additional 25 percent in cuts?

Due to the nationwide rollout of competitive bidding at the beginning of 2016, HME providers faced a 25 percent cut in reimbursement and without reform, face an additional 25 percent cut effective July 1.

Without Medicare and Medicaid policy reform, HME providers face difficult decisions about which areas of their business model can be changed to remain profitable and continue to serve patients that rely on HME to stay alive and independent.

Tell Congress to freeze reimbursement rates

The HME industry continues to fight hard against the competitive bidding program. Current legislation in the U.S. Senate, S.2736, will provide for a 15-month freeze to the current reimbursement rates.

Urge your elected officials to support this crucial legislation. Visit the VGM Action Center to create an editable letter to send to Congress.

 

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