03.21.20

Gardner, Bennet Unveil New Legislation to Help Colorado’s Rural Hospitals and Providers Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

New Bipartisan Bill Would Sustain Rural Hospitals and Providers While Alleviating Pressure on Urban Hospitals

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act, new legislation to address the impending crisis facing Colorado’s health care system as the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) increasingly strains hospitals and providers across the country. To accommodate the millions of anticipated coronavirus cases, state and federal governments have suspended elective surgeries to alleviate pressure on large, urban hospitals. Although this decision is medically necessary given the pandemic, it could force widespread closures among rural hospitals that rely disproportionately on elective procedures to keep their doors open. The bill would extend a lifeline to rural hospitals and providers and the 60 million Americans who depend on them for health care.

“Health care providers are on the front lines against COVID-19 and we must ensure they have the necessary resources to successfully combat the pandemic,” said Senator Gardner. “I have heard from rural hospitals in Colorado and Congress must ensure they stay open. I’m proud to work with Senators Bennet and Barrasso to support our rural hospitals so all Coloradans have access to care and our dedicated public health officials can respond to this ongoing crisis.”

“The magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic will strain every level of America’s health care system like we’ve never seen before,” said Senator Bennet. “Even before the outbreak, many of our rural hospitals and providers were on the brink of shuttering. Now they face an existential challenge. Our plan would provide immediate assistance to stabilize and strengthen our rural hospitals, so they can continue to play a critical role on the front lines of this public health crisis.”

Across the country, rural hospitals, independent physician practices, ambulatory surgery centers, and other outpatient facilities play a critical role treating cancer, chronic diseases, and other pressing health conditions. Despite these vital services, many rural providers have been forced to close or to dramatically reduce operations, damaging the health and economies of our rural communities. Although 2019 experienced the most closures of rural hospitals in history, 2020 is on pace to double that record. With federal assistance from the Gardner-Bennet bill, rural hospitals and providers could keep their doors open, make payroll for their workers, and continue serving their communities. Open beds in rural hospitals will also become essential to accommodate patient transfers from overwhelmed urban hospitals. Many rural facilities are also equipped to accommodate patients in need of ventilators, which experts predict will be essential to the nation’s pandemic response in the weeks ahead.

The Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act would: 

  • Provide Immediate Relief for Rural Hospitals with an emergency mandatory one-time grant to Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) and rural Prospective Payment System (PPS) hospitals equaling $1,000 per patient day for three months.
  • Provide Stabilization for Rural Hospitals with a one-time, emergency grant for CAH and rural PPS hospitals equaling the total reimbursement received for services for three months to stabilize the loss of revenue.
  • Encourage Hospital Coordination with a 20% increase in Medicare reimbursement for any patient in a rural hospital using the swing bed program to incentivize freeing up capacity in larger, overcrowded hospitals.
  • Provide Stabilization and Relief for Providers with an emergency, one-time grant for all providers and ambulatory surgery centers equal to their total payroll from January 1 - April 1, 2019.
  • Provide Funding for Physicians and Providers by authorizing the Small Business Administration to provide low interest loans to providers and ambulatory surgery centers at a 0.25% interest rate that will not accrue until two years after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.

Joining Gardner and Bennet in introducing the bill are U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).The bill text is available here.

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.