Having Cosponsored Save Rural Hospitals Act, Miss. Senator Uses Appropriations Hearing on HHS Budget to Address Ongoing Hardships

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VIDEO:  Senator Hyde-Smith Considers Options to Help Rural Hospitals.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), on behalf of rural hospitals in Mississippi, today encouraged Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to determine the feasibility of temporary per diem payment changes to help alleviate financial challenges and staffing shortages hitting facilities in Mississippi and other states.

Hyde-Smith addressed the plight of rural hospitals during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing to review the FY2024 budget request for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hyde-Smith listed a litany of problems created for patients and health care providers linked to staff shortages, particularly small rural hospitals, among them patients “boarded” in emergency rooms waiting for beds and hospitals losing money as patient care exceeds diagnosis-related group payment levels.

“We have all these issues, that I’m sure you’ve heard from many others,” Hyde-Smith told Becerra.  “How do we overcome the financial challenges made worse by COVID and inflation that we are seeing not only in Mississippi but across the nation?  Have you or the agency considered establishing a temporary per diem payment targeted to hospitals to address staffing shortages?”

Becerra testified he would get back to Hyde-Smith, but was unsure whether setting a temporary per diem payment was under consideration and indicated costs might be a factor in whether such payments were feasible.  He also pointed to various HHS programs intended to direct more health care workers to rural and underserved areas.

“Still small potatoes, overall, but it’s an effort to try to keep those facilities, alive,” Becerra said.

Last week, Hyde-Smith joined U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to reintroduce the Save Rural Hospitals Act (S.803) to help stem the tide of hospital closures in rural communities by making sure hospitals are fairly reimbursed for their services by the federal government. 

S.803 would offer a permanent fix to Medicare’s unfair Wage Index, which is harming rural and low-income hospitals.  The measure would establish a national minimum of 0.85 for the Medicare Area Wage Index, which is used to adjust a hospital’s overall payment from the Medicare program on the basis of geographic differences in labor costs, to ensure that rural hospitals receive fair payment for the care they provide.