Lawmakers are introducing legislation to keep Iowa’s small rural hospitals open

Sen. Chuck Grassley answers questions from reporters Friday, March 25, 2022 in Marion, Iowa after a question and answer session with students and parents from the Marion Homeschool Network. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa House lawmakers, who are advanced supporters of the legislation, say they could offer a financial lifeline to Iowa’s small rural hospitals facing closure.

The Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to submit a bill to Parliament that would introduce a state licensing scheme for “rural emergency hospitals.”

New federal regulations allow rural hospitals to discontinue inpatient care and instead focus on providing outpatient services and emergency medical care through a dedicated emergency department that quickly treats and discharges.

The bill also increases government reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid patients treated at a rural emergency hospital.

“Anything we can do to help rural hospitals keep their doors open and I think this will help rebuild a facility in Keokuk and prop up other small, rural hospitals that are at risk of closing their doors.” to close,” said committee member Rep. Thomas Jay Moore, R-Griswold said.

Congress introduced the new Medicare provider designation in 2021 to provide access to emergency medical care and other services in areas where there would otherwise be no hospital.

Republican US Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa helped pass the law. And along with Republican Rep. Marianne Miller-Meeks of Iowa, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services urged the final rules to be released quickly following a hospital closure in southeastern Iowa.

Quincy, Illinois-based Blessing Health closed its 49-bed Keokuk Hospital last fall due to operating losses and low demand for inpatient care.

“The closure of Keokuk Hospital is just one of many hospital closures in rural America and will not be the last,” Keokuk Mayor Kathie Mahoney said in October in a statement from community leaders studying options for maintaining quality health services in the community , including as a rural emergency hospital.

The creation of the new license designation offers rural hospitals the opportunity to properly size their healthcare infrastructure while maintaining essential medical services for their communities, Grassley said in a statement at the time.

However, passage of the program requires that legislatures in each state establish statewide requirements and licensing regulations for the new type of provider.

The bill applies to a general hospital operating on a valid need certificate with no more than 50 approved beds in a rural area with a population between 30,000 and 35,000, according to 2020 census figures.

“This is a great opportunity to support rural communities and keep rural hospitals open,” said Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, HHS committee member.

Committee members also voted unanimously to move forward with legislation that would expand the scope of a loan forgiveness program for mental health providers.

Lawmakers gave the Iowa College Student Aid Commission $1.5 million last year to pay for a psychiatrist student loan repayment program.

The program was created to increase the number of non-prescribing mental health physicians serving in cities in states with in-state mental health deficiencies by providing loan repayees with up to five consecutive years of full-time service, unless, a waiver of part-time work is granted. time service.

The bill, presented Tuesday, expands the scope to include all eligible, licensed mental health professionals working in the state during a five-year, full-time practice. The Student Assistance Commission would give priority to eligible Iowa residents to enroll in a university and agree to practice in a service area located in an area with a mental health skills shortage.

The bill also requires recipients to be registered as an actively participating Medicaid provider.

“This brings a number of other mental health professionals to Iowa that we need,” said Rep. Mary Madison, D-West Des Moines. “And it serves Medicaid patients.”

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