Lucas, Keller Work to Save Rural Hospitals, Reintroduce RURAL HELP Act

March 17, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Last week, Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) joined Congressman Fred Keller (R-PA) in reintroducing the Reviewing Urban and Rural Adjustments to Level Hospital Expenses and Lopsided Payments Act, otherwise known as the RURAL HELP Act in the 117th Congress.

The legislation aims to bring parity to inpatient Medicare reimbursement payments between rural and urban hospitals to help struggling rural hospitals survive by requiring the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to determine the precise level of systematic disparity that exists between urban and rural hospital payments in such reimbursements. The legislation also specifies that once the evaluation is completed, the Secretary shall make an adjustment to CMS payment policies to make up for the identified disparity.

As it relates to Oklahoma’s Third Congressional District, the RURAL HELP Act will help keep the following hospitals open by providing reimbursement parity with urban or suburban hospitals:

- AllianceHealth Woodward, Woodward County

- AllianceHealth Ponca City, Kay County

- Great Plains Regional Medical Center, Beckham County

- Jackson County Memorial Hospital, Jackson County

- AllianceHealth Clinton, Custer County

- Blackwell Regional Hospital, Kay County

- Stillwater Medical Center, Payne County

- Hillcrest Hospital Cushing, Payne County

- Stillwater Medical- Perry, Noble County

- Elkview General Hospital, Kiowa County

“Throughout this past year, Oklahoma’s rural hospitals have proved why their presence and care is so essential to so many communities throughout Oklahoma. Rural communities help feed and clothe the world, provide energy to help run our nation, and contribute to a hard-working workforce that keeps our economies growing; yet sadly, we are witnessing an increasing trend in rural hospital closures and a decrease in access to quality care across rural communities,” said Congressman Lucas. “I’m proud to join my friend and colleague again, Congressman Fred Keller, in reintroducing the RURAL HELP Act, requiring the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to evaluate and fix payment inequities between urban and rural hospitals. Rural Oklahomans deserve the same quality, affordable, and accessible care as their neighbors in urban Oklahoma.”

“Quality care in rural America should be affordable for those who need it and be cost-effective for the rural hospitals administering it. Unfortunately, rural hospitals in Pennsylvania’s 12th District and across the nation are constantly faced with the risk of closure from things like lopsided Medicare reimbursement rates and trying to make ends meet in a rural setting,” said Congressman Fred Keller (PA-12).“That’s why our team reintroduced the RURAL HELP Act so we can systemically reevaluate declining Medicare payments and ensure rural hospitals can continue their important service to our communities.”

According to the National Rural Health Association, over just the last ten years, 135 rural hospitals have closed with another 453 at risk for closure.

“NRHA applauds Congressman Keller for reintroducing the Reviewing Urban and Rural Adjustments to Level Hospital Expenses and Lopsided Payments (RURAL HELP) Act which aims to bring parity to inpatient Medicare reimbursement payments between rural and urban hospitals,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Health Association. “Since 2010, we have seen 136 rural hospitals close their doors. If passed, the RURAL HELP Act would help vulnerable hospitals at risk of closure.”

“America’s rural health infrastructure is frayed like never before. Unfortunately, systemic Medicare payment inequities are further straining this safety net,” said the Rural Hospital Coalition. “The RURAL HELP Act would require CMS to immediately examine and fix systemic payment inequities burdening our rural hospitals.”

Lucas was a cosponsor of the RURAL HELP Act in the 116th Congress. In March of 2020, Lucas joined Congressman Keller in sending a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma asking her agency to re-evaluate the Medicare Severity Diagnosis Related Group (MS-DRG) classification system in the annually updated Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS)—the mechanism that determines Medicare reimbursement for inpatient services at most hospitals.

The MS-DRG recalibrations have negatively impacted these types of rural hospitals over the last several years and this re-evaluation is a critical component to ensuring rural hospitals receive the appropriate Medicare reimbursement amount.

Representatives Mike Kelly (PA-16), Glenn “GT” Thompson (PA-15), Morgan Griffith (VA-09), and Greg Steube (FL-17) also joined in reintroducing the RURAL HELP Act in the 117th Congress. 

 

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