Southeast Missouri Congressman Jason Smith says he wants to save the nation’s rural hospitals at risk of closing. He is proposing to let the U.S. Health and Human Services Department secretary forgive all Medicare accelerated payments for rural hospitals experiencing severe money problems. His legislation would also extend the timeline for hospital repayment or lower the payment interest rate if there is a serious chance of closure, bankruptcy, large-scale layoffs, or any other situation the secretary deems appropriate.

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, speaks to a community member at Mercy Hospital Jefferson in Festus in 2016 (file photo courtesy of Congressman Smith’s office)

Smith, a Republican from Salem, represents 30 counties across southern Missouri. According to data from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Missouri has had seven hospitals shutter their doors since 2014 – five are in Smith’s district.

“Put simply, this bill will help to keep our rural hospitals open by allowing the Secretary of HHS to give hospitals the flexibility they need to remain financially viable,” says Smith. “Last year was the worst year since 2010 for hospital closures in rural communities. Yet, due to increased financial hardships inflicted by the coronavirus, this year could be even worse.”

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill data shows 18 rural hospitals closed last year. So far this year, 12 have called it quits.

“Any future federal responses to the coronavirus must include this legislation to ensure our rural hospitals do not emerge from this pandemic in a worse position than they were before it began,” Smith adds.

The plan also requires HHS to decide within 30 days of receiving a request from a hospital experiencing hardship.

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