Durbin Meets With Rural Illinois Health Care Leaders

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with members of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN) to discuss legislation to support rural hospitals and address rural health workforce shortages. Durbin also discussed his work to lower prescription drug pricing, the SIREN Act, and President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 proposal to cut Medicaid by $900 billion.

Before his meeting with ICAHN, Durbin spoke to the National Rural Health Association and accepted their 2020 Rural Health Champion Award for his work to improve rural health access, infrastructure, and workforce. Photos of the event are available here.

“Rising costs, long drives to see a doctor, months-long waits to see a specialist. When I visit rural communities in Illinois, those are some of the concerns I hear from people who are facing real challenges accessing quality, affordable health,” Durbin said. “We know that rural hospitals, clinics, and providers are also the economic backbone in their communities.  That’s why I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to tackle these rural health challenges. I also appreciate the support from the National Rural Health Association and Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network as we work to improve rural health care in Illinois.”

Last year, Durbin introduced bipartisan legislation to address critical rural health workforce shortages. The Rural America Health Corps Act would create a new program that improves the existing National Health Service Corps (NHSC) program by providing new dedicated student loan forgiveness funding for health care providers that serve in rural communities. 

Across Illinois, 3.3 million people live in communities with shortages of doctors, five million people live in communities with shortages of mental health professionals, and 2.3 million people live in communities with shortages of dentists. The current NHSC program provides up to $50,000 to repay student loans for primary care doctors, dentists, behavioral health clinicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants for two years of service in a “health professional shortage area.”  Eligible locations include urban and rural hospitals and community health clinics with a shortage of providers.  Approximately 550 clinicians in Illinois provide health care through the NHSC program, yet fewer than 70 serve in rural communities. 

The Rural America Health Corps Act, introduced with Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN),  Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Doug Jones (D-AL), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would create a new $25 million program that would bolster the existing rural NHSC placements and would provide funding for up to five years – an increase from the current two-year forgiveness period – for doctors, dentists, behavioral health specialists, and nurse practitioners, which would assist with recruitment and retention efforts.   

In December, Durbin joined Senator James Lankford (R-OK) and U.S. Representatives Adam Kinzinger (R-IL-16) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA-02), to introduce a new bill to support financially vulnerable rural hospitals facing risk of closure. The Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act would update Medicare’s “Critical Access Hospital” (CAH) designation so more rural hospitals can qualify for this financial lifeline and continue to serve their communities with quality, affordable health care services.  Small hospitals are the backbone of rural communities, and often the largest employers, yet more than 113 rural hospitals have closed nationwide in the past decade, with many more hospitals operating with negative margins.

Under CAH status, hospitals are paid a higher Medicare rate—101 percent of their actual costs, rather than set rates per service, as long as they have fewer than 25 inpatient beds; are located 35 miles from other hospitals; maintain patient length of stays less than 96 hours; and offer 24/7 emergency care. 

The Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act would support rural hospitals by providing flexibility around the 35-mile distance requirement and enabling states to certify a hospital as a “necessary provider” in order to obtain CAH designation.  This authority ended in 2006, but today’s bill would re-open this financial lifeline for certain rural hospitals that serve a low-income community, are located in a health professional shortage area, and that have operated with negative margins for multiple years. 

The Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act is supported by the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network (ICAHN), Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA), and National Rural Health Association (NRHA).