Hospitals are critical to our state’s future. The Rural Emergency Hospitals designation will help with funding.
An important realization to come from the COVID-19 pandemic, is the significance of rural hospitals. With mobility restrictions placed on communities, Kansans depended on these facilities for critical health needs more than usual.
Rural hospitals are especially important in our state. Kansas has 82 of these facilities, the second-most in the country, with only Texas higher at 87. Across America, nearly 60 million people live in areas that depend on rural hospitals.
Unfortunately, many of our rural hospitals have been under threat of closure for decades due to outdated regulation and funding laws. After too many closures in the 1980s and 1990s, Congress passed a well-intended law to define a new type of rural hospital called Critical Access Hospitals. One of the requirements was that rural hospitals must maintain 25 acute care inpatient beds.
That requirement made sense in 1997 but is no longer applicable. Hospital funding for rural residents shouldn’t be based on outdated assumptions. Now in 2021, the quality of care has improved significantly. Many procedures no longer require hospital stays and can be done on an outpatient basis, making old requirements irrelevant to today’s health care realities.
It’s harmful to rural residents to essentially punish them for health care innovations, so I went to work with my colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee to develop a solution.
We realized hospitals had to participate in wasteful practices to meet outdated requirements to receive critical funding. These obsolete laws have impacted people’s lives. Every dollar we waste complying with an old regulation is a dollar we can’t spend caring for new patients.
So, we created a new designation called “Rural Emergency Hospitals” that allows rural hospitals to receive funding for necessary services.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 established the Rural Emergency Hospital status. In 2021, the state of Kansas took the final step to approve this designation allowing hospitals to transition to the new status.
This new status is a critical lifeline to any of the 82 rural hospitals in our state. Most importantly, this will be a tremendous service to thousands of Kansans. Instead of traveling a long distance to see a doctor, Kansans can visit local hospitals with restructured facilities to meet the needs of their local communities.
I’m encouraged that not only did my colleagues support creating this lifeline that will help rural hospitals keep their doors open, but so did the Kansas and American Hospital Associations as well.
The challenges of the past year motivate us to look ahead and avoid additional rural hospital funding crises in the future. New innovations in technology blur the lines between what we consider as urban and rural.
In health care, changes like improved telemedicine, remote monitoring, smart process automation and improved surgical techniques will force policymakers to continuously reassess whether yesterday’s laws are keeping up with today’s realities.
We shouldn’t wait a quarter-century to revisit rules. I’m committed to making sure these facilities stay open so people can access the care they need, from the doctor they choose, at a price they can afford.
Ron Estes has represented Kansas’ 4th Congressional District since 2017.