Terri Sewell introduces two bills to improve rural access to health care

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Democrat and Alabama 7th District U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell reached across the aisle last week to her Republican colleague Nebraska 3rd District U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith to introduce two bills to improve rural access to health care.

H.R. 1041: the Critical Access Hospital Relief Act

H.R. 1041 will repeal Medicare’s 96-hour rule, which requires physicians to certify at the time of admission their intent to discharge or transfer the patient to another hospital within four days. Many deem this an “arbitrary” requirement that risks depriving patients in rural areas of the critical care necessary to save lives, which is why the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has addressed the 96-hour rule through rule-making, but H.R. 1041 would codify it into law and  ensure the issue is address permanently.

“We know that access to good primary care results in people living longer, healthier lives, but in many communities across the country, including many in Alabama’s 7th District, medical professional shortages threaten access to quality health care,” Sewell explained. “Our Medicare payment policies must eliminate barriers that stand in the way of our ability to attract qualified medical talent to rural and underserved areas, such as physician assistants.”

Sewell continued, “Every American should be able to receive the care they need, regardless of where they live, but the 96-hour rule disproportionately threatens access to health care for Americans living in rural areas, like my constituents serviced by Choctaw General Critical Access Hospital, and severely affects Critical Access Hospitals’ ability to operate.”

H.R. 1052: the Physician Assistant Direct Payment Act

H.R. 1052  will allow physician assistants to be directly compensated by Medicare in order to expand their role as medical providers in underserved communities. At present, physician assistants are the only providers allowed to bill Medicare for services rendered, but required to have their payments routed through a third party such as a physician or hospital. 

“Rural Americans are frequently left out of the debate in Washington and it’s imperative we continue to fight for their best interests,” Smith added. “The repeal of Medicare’s 96-hour rule and allowing physician assistants to be paid directly by Medicare are two great examples of ensuring rural Americans receive better care.”

Rural hospitals close in Alabama

Sewell introduced her bill just days before news broke that the Georgiana Medical Center in Georgiana, Ala. will be closing on March 31 due to the rising costs of health care.

It will be the state’s 13th hospital to close in eight years, and the seventh rural hospital among those to close.

According to Danne Howard, Policy Director at the Alabama Hospitals Association, about 88 percent of the state’s rural hospitals are operating “in the red” and aren’t currently receiving reimbursements that can cover the cost of delivering care.