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Rural-health lobby asks McConnell to make critical-access status easier for nine Kentucky hospitals

Rural hospitals will be on the mind of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he works on the next coronavirus relief bill, he said this week.

McConnell didn’t commit to supporting a specific proposal of the National Rural Health Association, making it easier for struggling rural hospitals to qualify as critical-access hospitals, a designation that gets them extra reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid in return for limiting their beds, services and length of patient stays.

The NRHA proposal would allow a limited number of hospitals to get the designation even if they are less than 35 miles from another hospital. The Kentucky Rural Health Association identified nine hospitals that could be helped by the change in Albany, Flemingsburg, Greenville, Jackson, Manchester, Marion, Morehead, Pikeville and Tompkinsville.

McConnell was asked about that Wednesday at UofLHealth-Shelbyville Hospital, duiring one of his many visits to hospitals, where he talks about funding they received from the $2 trillion Coroinavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act as he runs for re-election.

“Certainly, rural health care has been a focus already,” he replied, saying “Kentucky rural health got about $370 million” from earlier relief bills. “I have a particular interest in that, as you can imagine, given the nature of our state, and we’re very attuned to that, not only in the bills that we’ve already passed, but in the one that we’ll be putting together.”

NRHA circulated the proposal to its state affiliates, asking them to contact their senators. Its Kentucky memo said “We currently believe there are 18 rural hospitals across the state vulnerable to shutting their doors for good. . . . If these hospitals are forced to fend for themselves, with sub-par reimbursements and uncertain funding streams, it’s uncertain how long they can last.”

McConnell spokeswoman Stephanie Penn sent Kentucky Health News an email saying that “Among states with similar populations, Kentucky has received the second most in funding from the Healthcare Provider Fund” and listing specific visits and aid to two of the hospitals on the list, Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital and St. Claire Medical Center in Morehead.

She noted that the Greenville hospital “has received more than $4.1 million from the CARES Act. They are also investing in telehealth programs,” partly with more $240,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She said McConnell helped St. Claire get a $900,000 opioid-response grant; the hospital is getting $7.2 million in a Medicaid-lawsuit settlement engineered by McConnell and Gov. Andy Beshear; and it has received nearly $17.4 million from the CARES Act, including a recent “distribution of over $7.8 million for this facility, specifically because of its work to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay.”

From Kentucky Health News

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