Gardner, Grassley, Klobuchar Introduce Legislation to Help Rural Hospitals Stay Open, Focus on Emergency Room Care, Outpatient Services

Washington, D.C. – Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) today re-introduced legislation to help rural hospitals stay open while meeting the needs of rural residents for emergency room care and outpatient services. 


“Coloradans living in rural communities should not be denied access to healthcare simply because they do not live in a large metropolitan area,” Gardner said. “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation provides rural hospitals an option to continue providing emergency services to rural America even if they do not meet Medicare’s criteria for inpatient beds. During an emergency, time is of the essence, and it is critical that we maintain access to life-saving treatment regardless of your zip code.”   


“A car accident or a heart attack is dangerous under the best of circumstances, but it’s a lot more dangerous for someone who’s far away from an emergency room,” Grassley said. “When a rural hospital closes, its emergency room closes with it. This proposal will fill a pressing need, help keep hospital doors open, and offer hospital services where and when people need them most.”


“Our rural hospitals are essential institutions in communities across Minnesota. They don’t just provide vital health services, they employ thousands of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care workers,” Klobuchar said. “Millions of people depend on keeping these hospitals open. Our bipartisan legislation will help ensure that rural Minnesotans and Americans across the country have access to medical care when and where they need it most.”


The senators noted that 60 percent of trauma deaths in the United States occur in rural areas, where only 15 percent of the population is represented. The pace of rural hospital closures is accelerating, and many other hospitals that haven’t closed are struggling to keep their doors open.


Under Medicare, many rural hospitals are designated as Critical Access Hospitals, meaning they have to maintain a certain amount of inpatient beds as well as an emergency room. Many hospitals struggle to attract enough inpatients to keep their Critical Access Hospital statusWhen they close their doors, it often means a community loses its emergency services. Studies show that proximity to an emergency room often means the difference between life and death.   


·       The senators’ bipartisan bill, the Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital (REACH) Act, would create a new classification under Medicare called a Rural Emergency Hospital. The hospital would have an emergency room and outpatient services, and would eliminate the inpatient beds that many hospitals are struggling to maintain. 


The bill wouldn’t force any new requirements on hospitals. It simply would offer them a new option. The hospitals would have to maintain some protocols in exchange for removing inpatient services, such as being able to rapidly move a patient to a larger hospital elsewhere that offers more services.


The bill text is available here