Rural Healthcare 2019 State of the Union

The 42nd Annual Rural Health Conference is back!

During the week of May 7-10 leaders in healthcare will convene to address some of the critical issues and emergencies facing rural hospitals. So, what has changed since last year’s 2018 conference?

The struggle in rural healthcare to keep hospitals open is still an ongoing battle. In fact, Maggie Elehwany of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) openly states that rural health is in a crisis. Considering over 100 rural hospitals have closed their doors since 2010, and close to 46 percent of currently open rural hospitals are functioning at a loss, many in the industry  are working feverishly to keep the lights on.

In their recent report on government affairs for the fiscal year of 2018, NRHA had a number of rural healthcare wins to highlight, evincing that the fruit of their labor is working. Some of the bright spots of the past year included various legislative and regulatory victories in the fight for sustainable rural healthcare.

A Recap of Rural Healthcare Policy and Legislative Success in 2018

  • Expanded funding for important rural health programs through the appropriations process
  • Inclusion of a rural health section of the Farm Bill with important improvements for rural health care, including a liaison between USDA and HHS
  • Improvements for rural providers utilizing USDA rural development loans along with a new technical assistance program
  • Passing of the Opioid Crisis Response Act with inclusion of every NRHA ask
  • Reauthorization of Medicare extenders important to rural health care for multiple years
  • Stopped a change in interpretation of “like hospitals” to protect some hospital’s CAH status
  • Secured exemption for Sole Community Hospitals from a 28% reimbursement cut for 340B drugs
  • Approval of the FCC’s $100 million “Connected Care Pilot Program” in support of telehealth for rural America

These wins and more where all underscored by NRHA’s growing presence on social media and increased visibility on Capitol Hill. Public messaging and meetings with members of Congress helped NRHA’s government affairs team set the tone for what will come in 2019. However, even though progress has been made through improved government relations, it cannot go without emphasizing that they’re just getting started.

Advocating for Rural Healthcare in 2019

The challenges for rural healthcare in America run the gamut from socioeconomic disadvantages to the sheer size of the rural American landscape. As part of their 2019 plan and leading up to their Annual Rural Health Conference this May, NRHA will be placing a special focus on these key issues.

1. Continued Healthcare Regulatory Priorities

Providing the rural population with a strong, unified voice when it comes to healthcare regulations, including:

  • Continued development of Medicaid waiver polices
  • Solutions for CAHs 96-Hour Rule and Merit-based Incentive Payment Systems (MIPS)
  • Preservation of the 340B Program for rural populations
  • Updates to supervision requirements for outpatient therapy services
  • Improve USDA grants to ease application process and usefulness for rural providers.

2. Rural Healthcare Workforce Shortages

Attracting and retaining skilled healthcare workers in general, is one of the most difficult rural healthcare challenges providers are facing.

NRHA reports that developing a program to foster growth in the rural healthcare workforce will be a key initiative for 2019, especially in the areas of obstetrics (OB) and maternity care. A 2017 study revealed that an astonishing 58 percent of rural counties do not have access to hospital-based OB care and more than 200 rural maternity wards have closed from 2004 to 2014.

3. Affordable Access to Rural Healthcare and Telehealth

Too often healthcare legislation marginalizes the rural sector of the industry. In 2019 NRHA will continue to work to support programs designed to improve access to rural care and make it more affordable for the rural population.

Efforts will include pushing for regulatory changes that support health care in rural areas and reforms  to the Affordable Care Act that have unintentionally hurt the rural population.

NRHA ‘s Future Forecast

NRHA’s CEO Alan Morgan recently shared with us that we are on the dawn of a rural renaissance in healthcare. They plan on turning this vision into a reality in their plans for 2019 by addressing the following:

  • A steady focus on the unique challenges surrounding rural providers and their patient-base
  • Building more awareness on regulations that place undue burdens on rural health care
  • Working with and advocating through Congress for new solutions to prevent rural hospital and rural health clinic closures

Sustaining healthcare for rural America won’t come without hard work on all sides. The heaviest workload continues to fall at ground zero and will take the resilient efforts of the rural hospitals themselves and the communities they serve. However, with continued support from organizations like NRHA and through partnerships with invested healthcare vendors, a bright future for rural healthcare is more than possible.

Get involved and see first-hand what NRHA is doing to advocate for rural health. Join us in attending the nation’s largest rural health conference, NRHA’s Annual Rural Health Conference in May.

For information about what will be covered NRHA’s Annual Rural Health Conference, visit the NRHA’s events webpage.

Be Part of the Rural Healthcare Conversation

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Let’s help solve this together!

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