Farm bill boosts Alabama rural health care, but real showdown awaits in Montgomery

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Around 88% of Alabama’s rural hospitals are facing deficits and over a dozen are likely to close their doors within two years. Some state lawmakers are proposing an $867 billion federal farm bill. For the first time in history, there’s a section that addresses rural health concerns.

“No question we are motivated to stabilize rural hospitals. And tools to do that in the new farm bill will be used as soon as possible in my opinion,” said state Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview.

Alabama’s seven House members and both senators all supported the bill — the “Agriculture Improvement Act” – when it passed Tuesday.

According to our news partners at AL.com, the bill provides no direct dollars to struggling rural hospitals, but various of its provisions aim to ease their dire prospects. Five small-town hospitals have closed in Alabama since 2010, and several others have had close calls.

Danne Howard, executive vice president and chief policy officer with the Alabama Hospital Association, describes numerous rural hospitals as being on “the razor-thin margin.”

Howard said, “If all things stay the same, and there is no relief, we estimate 12 to 18 hospital closures could happen over the next two years. And if they don’t close, they would have to dramatically cut services and lay people off.”

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