Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Expanded Medicaid may save many rural hospitals in South

Rural hospitals, especially in the South, have closed in alarming numbers in recent decades, but pandemic funding slowed the trend. Pandemic funding will end, but expanding Medicaid in states that haven't done so could bring in the funding to save many hospitals. That's part of Democrats' "Build Back Better" bill that has an uncertain future in Congress.

"The coronavirus pandemic devastated rural hospitals in the South initially, with 13 of them closing in 2020 alone. But federal pandemic relief sustained hospitals in rural communities last year. No rural hospitals in the South closed in 2021, and only two closed nationwide," Elisha Brown reports for Facing South. "However, special pandemic funding for hospitals in rural communities is running out and some is expected to expire at the end of this year. Meanwhile, the Omicron surge is worsening the medical industry's staffing shortages. Health care advocates say expanding Medicaid in the region could help rural hospitals stay afloat and provide needed care. To date, 38 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and 12 states have not, with eight of the non-expansion states in the South. The non-expansion states have seen more rural hospital closures."

Medicaid expansion has had a "tremendous positive impact" on rural hospitals, Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, told Brown.

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