Durbin: We Must Support Rural Hospitals During COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged his Senate colleagues to pass legislation that would ensure rural hospitals have the needed support to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and maintain financial stability to continue serving their communities into the future. During a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin highlighted his bipartisan Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act, a bill he introduced with Senator James Lankford (R-OK), that would address the threat of closure for the most vulnerable rural hospitals by updating 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. Lankford joined Durbin on the floor expressing support for their bill.

“Like Oklahoma, downstate Illinois has small town communities and many of them are lucky enough to have a great hospital. They are not only important sources of medical care, they are a major part of the local economy and they really are a rallying point for many communities,” Durbin said.  “The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated and compounded the strains facing our rural hospitals.  Illinois hospitals are losing $1.4 billion each month…Nationwide, rural hospitals have an average of only 33 days cash on hand.  There is an immediate need to stabilize…the cost of inaction is disastrous.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

Small hospitals are the backbone of rural communities, and often the largest employers, yet more than 120 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 the 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), American Hospital Association (AHA), and National Rural Health Association (NRHA).