Senators Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill To Secure Funding For Rural Health Providers During The Covid-19 Pandemic

Today, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) introduced the bipartisan Save Our Rural Health Providers Act which creates a new formula to ensure the Provider Relief Fund has a dedicated set-aside amount directed towards rural areas of America. Representatives Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM-02) and Jim Hagedorn (R-MN-01) will introduce the House of Representatives companion bill tomorrow.

Formula Guidelines:

  • A 20 percent Rural Benchmark in the Provider Relief Fund
  • Priority should be granted to facilities that have been significantly affected by COVID-19 preparation
  • Priority should be granted for facilities that provide care for a disproportionally high percentage of Medicare and Medicaid patients
  • Priority should be granted for facilities that provide care for populations with above average senior populations or co-morbidities that are particularly vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 and for populations in areas:
    1. With limited access to health infrastructure;
    2. With high uninsured patients.

Bill text can be found here.

“Providing health care in rural Alaska continues to be a challenge. On top of what is already a difficult task, Alaska hospitals continue to struggle with the financial impacts of COVID-19 mitigation measures, and financial support to date has not been adequate for all of our facilities. This legislation clarifies that certain health care facilities in Alaska are eligible for COVID-19 funding to help shore up that gap, and also establishes a rural benchmark to ensure funds being allocated through coronavirus relief measures go to rural providers,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m proud to lead legislation that will help level the playing field for rural facilities who are working hard to provide quality care for Alaskans. During a time filled with stress and uncertainty, this is a strong message of support for rural facilities.”

“Plain and simple, it’s harder to serve our rural communities – especially when it comes to providing reliable and affordable healthcare – and in the middle of a health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of our lives, and we must do everything we can to ensure every West Virginian has access to the healthcare they need and deserve,” Senator Manchin said. “Across West Virginia, our rural health providers are functioning on shoestring budgets while caring for West Virginians during the COVID-19 pandemic. I continue to hear from providers that they need help to stay afloat. I am proud to introduce the bipartisan and bicameral Save Our Rural Health Providers Act to secure a set-aside of the remaining Provider Relief Fund for rural health providers using the “Manchin Formula”. My proposed formula would secure funding for rural health providers by accounting for high percentages of Medicare and Medicaid patients, COVID-19 preparations, and vulnerable populations. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to include this legislation in the next COVID-19 relief funding package so that rural health providers in West Virginia and across America are supported while they care for those affected by this terrible virus.”

“Small rural hospitals, critical access hospitals and other rural providers must have assured access to resources as the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect their ability to survive financially.  We need to ensure people living in rural Mississippi and other states continue to have access to care.  That won’t be the case if more rural hospitals are pushed to close their doors because of COVID-19,” Senator Hyde-Smith said.

"Rural hospitals across southern New Mexico are simultaneously battling COVID-19 while fighting to keep their doors open.  Often, these rural healthcare providers across New Mexico and America the only point of care for hundreds of miles, and closing their doors would mean thousands would be forced to travel even further to access critical care during these unprecedented times.  It’s time we get these rural hospitals the support they need to continue to serve their communities,” said Representative Torres Small. “Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation would direct at least 20% of COVID-19 relief funding to rural providers across the county. As some rural hospitals brace for what is yet to come, this legislation takes an important step to ensure providers are able to provide high-quality care and keep their doors open.”  

“Medical providers and our incredible healthcare professionals have made enormous sacrifices, financial and otherwise, to prepare for a possible COVID-19 surge. In southern Minnesota, we are fortunate to have so many fine rural hospitals. For many southern Minnesota cities, the local hospital not only delivers timely, quality medical care, but is the largest employer and drives the economy. That’s why passage of our legislation is so critically important. We must continue to fight and defend the interests of our rural residents and communities,” said Representative Hagedorn.

“The Save Our Rural Health Providers Act is a fitting name because this bill would do exactly that. Twelve rural hospitals have already closed this year, and hundreds more are vulnerable to closure. This Act will provide the lifeline needed for rural providers as they struggle to keep doors open during this pandemic,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released $10 billion to rural healthcare providers from the Provider Relief Fund, and while stipulated that every hospital would receive at least $1 million, and every health center $100,000, the funding allocated has varied wildly throughout the country. Most states received approximately $1 million per rural health provider, but some states, like West Virginia, received approximately $500,000 per provider. West Virginia has the 6th most rural providers in the country, but received the 29th highest allocation. The Save Our Rural Health Providers Act, would require HHS to set-aside 20% of the Provider Relief Fund for rural health providers, which would allocate more than $10 billion for rural states. It also clarifies that all Critical Access Hospital, Rural Health Clinics, and dual eligible Rural Referral Centers and Sole Community Hospitals should be considered rural.

Related Issues: Health, COVID-19 Resource Page