Alabama lawmaker introduces legislation to send relief to rural hospitals during coronavirus pandemic

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This Aug. 25, 2018, photo shows the Lee County Medical Center in Pennington Gap, Va. Virginia’s westernmost county had appeared to be on track to reopen its only hospital, a rare accomplishment a rural community anywhere in the country. But questions involving the company expected to run the Lee County facility have thrown the plan into question at the last minute. (AP Photo/Earl Neikirk)

WASHINGTON, DC (WIAT) — Tuesday, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and other lawmakers introduced legislation to provide necessary relief for rural hospitals amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Accompanied by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA), the lawmakers introduced the immediate relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act, legislation as coronavirus cases continue to grow in Alabama and across the country.

“While the coronavirus outbreak will have an impact on all health care providers, the economic pressures of this crisis could be the death knell for our already-struggling rural hospitals in Alabama unless they receive targeted economic relief,” Sewell said. “This bipartisan legislation will go a long way in stabilizing our rural hospitals by providing immediate payments to our rural health care providers to help ensure they are able to keep their doors open during this pandemic.”

To accommodate the millions of anticipated coronavirus cases, states like Alabama have suspended elective surgeries to open beds and ensure capacity for what is expected to be an enormous influx of COVID-19 related cases. Although this decision is medically necessary given the pandemic, it could force widespread closures among rural hospitals that rely on elective procedures to keep their doors open.

The Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act would: 

  • Provide immediate relief for rural hospitals with an emergency mandatory one-time grant to rural hospitals equaling $1,000 per patient day for three months.
  • Provide stabilization for rural hospitals with a one-time, emergency grant equaling the total reimbursement received for services for three months to stabilize the loss of revenue.
  • Encourage hospital coordination with a 20% increase in Medicare reimbursement for any patient in a rural hospital using the swing bed program to incentivize freeing up capacity in larger, overcrowded hospitals.
  • Provide Stabilization and Relief for Providers with an emergency, a one-time grant for all providers and ambulatory surgery centers equal to their total payroll from January 1 – April 1, 2019.
  • Provide funding for physicians and providers by authorizing the Small Business Administration to provide low-interest loans to providers and ambulatory surgery centers at a 0.25% interest rate that will not accrue until two years after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.

The legislation was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

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