WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) questioned Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra about the department’s strategy to end the closure of rural hospitals around the country.
Barrasso asked Secretary Becerra about the department’s plans on addressing emergency waivers for Medicare and Medicaid programs after the COVID-19 public health emergency ends.
Click here to watch Sen. Barrasso’s remarks.
On Strategies to End the Closure of Rural Hospitals:
“Senator Warner before talked about rural hospitals and I want to continue on that because as you know, I practiced medicine in Wyoming for over 20 years. We’ve discussed previously ensuring patients in rural America have access health care is a personal priority of mine to make sure people get what they need in rural communities.
“Rural hospitals have really been on the frontlines of the pandemic. The facilities provided essential care when their communities needed them the most.
“Despite their best efforts, many rural hospitals continue to remain under threat. According to the University of North Carolina, 19 rural hospitals closed in 2020 and 138 have closed since 2010.
“The closure of a rural hospital means people have to drive much longer distances to receive essential health care. In a medical emergency when seconds count, driving these long distances, and most certainly in the dead of winter, can have deadly consequences.
“And when a rural hospital closes, it really has a significant impact on both the health and the economy of the local community. When a rural hospital closes, it is much harder to attract and maintain businesses, teachers, doctors, all sorts of things that impact a community.
“So, I am concerned your budget does not contain a comprehensive strategy for halting rural hospital closures and building a sustainable rural health care delivery system. Can you discuss with me please how the department is going to address this critical issue of rural hospitals?”
On Changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP After Public Health Emergency Ends:
“The Department of Health and Human Services implemented several emergency waivers for the Medicare and Medicaid programs in response to the COVID-19 situation.
“Some of the waivers granted patients more flexibility, enhanced access to telehealth. Others have ensured providers can do their jobs with less red tape and with more financial certainty. All those things are positive.
“The world today is very different than when the virus first hit our shores. Cases, deaths, and hospitalizations are right now, much, much closer to pandemic lows. This is why in Wyoming and most of America life has returned to normal.
“I think it is why we must plan for the end of the public health emergency. For us here in Congress, that means we need to ensure providers and patients don’t unexpectedly have the rug pulled out from under them after these flexibilities that I think have been helpful in Medicare and Medicaid end.
“So, will you commit to providing detailed and specific information to Congress on those emergency flexibilities that you did use in Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP programs as a result of the pandemic?”
“Will you provide detailed information on emergency waivers that your department believes Congress should extend or make permanent beyond the public health emergency?
“Additionally, has your department specified plans to ensure providers and patients are aware of changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP programs when the public health emergency ends?”