Cheyenne, OK – Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) announced today he recently cosponsored Congressman Jason Smith’s (MO-08) Saving Rural Hospitals from Closure Act, which authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take certain measures, including forgiving all Medicare accelerated payments for rural hospitals that are experiencing severe financial hardship.
“Having previously visited Oklahoma’s rural hospitals before the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear our state’s rural hospitals provide vitally-needed services to our small, rural towns. Rural hospitals are the backbone of communities across the nation, and sadly, last year, more rural hospitals closed due to increased financial hardships than any other year in the previous decade,” said Congressman Lucas.
“Congress must help our rural hospitals weather the pandemic’s economic uncertainty by allowing the Secretary of HHS to give hospitals the flexibility they need in order to remain financially sound. We must not allow those who call rural America home to lose these life-saving resources and access to general health care needs. I strongly urge my colleagues to continue their support for America’s hospitals and encourage them to provide rural hospitals the necessary resources and funding in order to help them weather the current economic hardships.”
Specifically, the legislation authorizes HHS to forgive hospitals’ repayment on Medicare accelerated payments, extend the timeline for their repayment, or lower the interest rate of their payments if there is “the existence of a serious chance of closure, impending bankruptcy, large-scale layoffs, or any other situation the Secretary determines appropriate.” It also stipulates that HHS must make a decision within 30 days of receiving a request from a hospital experiencing hardship.
“Oklahoma rural hospitals are vital to their communities, not only as health care providers, but also as economic engines to their local economy and as major employers. Rural hospitals currently face deep financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Oklahoma Hospital Association appreciates Congressman Lucas’ leadership in advancing this measure to help. This act is an important step in the right direction toward providing a lifeline to struggling hospitals during a challenging time,” said Patti Davis, president, Oklahoma Hospital Association.
In a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Congressman Jason Smith, the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) voiced its strong support for the Saving Rural Hospitals from Closure Act by writing, “Your legislation would allow the HHS Secretary to provide hospitals with the flexibility they need to stay open by forgiving hospitals’ reimbursements on Medicare accelerated and advanced payments, extending the timeline for their repayment, or lowering the interest rate of their payments if there is ‘the existence of a serious chance of closure, impending bankruptcy, large-scale layoffs, or any other situation the Secretary determines appropriate.’ Your bill would also ensure providers are assisted quickly by requiring the Secretary to make a decision within 30 days of receiving a request from a hospital experiencing hardship. NRHA strongly supports the Saving Rural Hospitals from Closure Act and commends your efforts to protect rural health by striving to support rural health providers across the country.”
In April, Lucas joined Congressman Jason Smith in sending a letter addressing the same issue to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Specifically, the letter urged Congress to provide the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services the flexibility to forgive Medicare accelerated payments for hospitals who can demonstrate that repayment will cause the facility significant financial hardship in any future COVID-19 relief packages.
Later that same month, Lucas led the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation in lobbying the Trump Administration to allow rural hospitals that are publicly owned to qualify for critical financial assistance programs. Before the rule change by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there were 43 rural hospitals in Oklahoma who were ineligible for the Paycheck Protection Program.