Keeping Emergency Rooms Open in Rural America
Every Arkansan should have access to quality health care, no matter where he or she lives. But, without immediate relief, many small hospitals in the nation are at serious risk of closure, job loss, or reductions in patient services, with rural families suffering the consequences. That's why solutions to preserve health care facilities that serve our rural communities should be part of the broader effort to improve the quality and access of health care for all Americans.
As a first step, I have introduced legislation that helps Arkansas' rural health care providers and the families who use them. The Critical Access Flexibility Act of 2009 will give states the flexibility needed to protect local hospitals that serve rural communities. My bill will help more hospitals in Arkansas become designated as Critical Access Hospitals (CAH), which are hospitals certified to receive a higher reimbursement rate from Medicare. These funds are intended to improve financial performance and thereby retain vital services and jobs and attract economic development.
There are now twenty-nine Arkansas hospitals that enjoy this designation. Several more medical centers in our state would like to participate, but are disqualified. Under the current law, in order for a hospital to be classified as a CAH, it must meet a number of conditions including a distance requirement that it must be 35 miles away from the nearest hospital. The Critical Access Flexibility Act simply restores a state's authority to waive the mileage requirements if all other conditions are met.
Across Arkansas, rural health care providers are struggling to make ends meet in these challenging economic times. Reducing the financial strain they are experiencing will help keep emergency room doors open, and that is an essential ingredient for a healthier state and nation.