In Critical Condition: Critical Access Hospitals

by Cindy Matthews, RCHC Board Member

In rural communities across the United States, citizens depend on front-line healthcare services from 1,300 Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs). Twenty-three percent of Americans live in rural areas; these facilities are often an area’s sole care provider. Sadly, today many CAHs face closure as proposed federal legislation decreases payments for care.

Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries represent a high proportion of patients in these 25-bed or smaller hospitals. This leads to significant financial fluctuations and performance challenges for CAHs, pressures that larger urban hospitals face less often.

Congress created the CAH designation as part of the Balanced Budget Act in 1997 to provide healthcare to people living in rural areas. One out of five Americans lives in rural areas.

In today’s landscape of U.S. rural hospital closures—81 closures since 2010—now is the time to increase support for CAHs through advocacy and policy efforts promoting stability and sustenance, instead of actions that may threaten their very existence.

Positive efforts are underway. The Critical Access Hospital Coalition works to educate policy makers in understanding the unique needs of CAHs and the vital role they play in rural community health. The CAH Coalition advocates for new federal policies impacting CAHs including reimbursement, regulations, and other actions.

I’m proud to support the CAH Coalition and the Rural & Community Healthcare Collaborative. The efforts of these organizations move rural healthcare steps ahead for the better.

Join the CAH Coalition.

Learn more about RCHC and CHC.