School Delays across the Tennessee Valley

New Alabama hospital rules benefits rural communities

Data pix.

An overwhelming majority of hospitals in rural communities, including some in Alabama, operate in the red. But the federal government recently gave them a lifeline.

"This buys a little more time," said Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Donald Williamson.

Time that just might keep some rural hospitals open.

Many are struggling financially, partially because of low reimbursement rates. In other words, when a hospital cares for someone on Medicare, hospitals in places like New York get more money back from the federal government than those in places like Alabama.

But a new rule change provides a little hope. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, announced the federal government will give more money to hospitals in the bottom 25% of the country to help with those reimbursements.

"And Alabama has more hospitals in that bottom 25% than any other state in the country," said Dr. Donald Williamson.

And for medical centers in rural Alabama, it could mean the difference between staying open and shutting their doors.

"In rural America, especially rural Alabama, you're more likely to have a population that is older, hence they're on Medicare," said Dr. Donald Williamson.

Just last month, on a visit to an Alabama hospital, Senator Doug Jones pushed for higher reimbursements.

"We've got to keep these hospitals in these communities. Hospitals and healthcare are the lifeblood of a community and when they start leaving, communities start drying up," said Senator Doug Jones.

Thirteen Alabama hospitals shuttered since 2010. Here in the valley, we know the effects all too well with the closures of Hartselle Medical Center and north Alabama Regional in Decatur.

This new rule change could breathe a little more life into hospitals on the verge of closure.

Lawmakers applaud the change. Senator Richard Shelby said, "Alabama hospitals have suffered the negative effects of the Medicare wage index for over two decades."

The rules go into effect with the new federal fiscal year on October 1.

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