Rural Health Package Being Considered by Congress

With the Senators preoccupied with impeachment hearings during January, Congressional staff continue to work on advancing health care legislation in 2020. In May, Congress will need to reauthorize or extend a number of health care programs whose funding expires on May 22, 2020.

The May 22 deadline creates a potential vehicle for Congress to pass broader health care legislation, including surprise billing, drug pricing and rural health. While optimism abounds off the Hill for a broad rural health care package, look for a narrower, more targeted package being unveiled by the Senate Finance Committee. The cost of the legislative proposal will play a factor with the more expensive bills most likely not being included.

On the House side, it remains to be seen if the Ways and Means Committee will introduce a broad bipartisan rural health bill. Members of the House Rural Health Task Force have been working on various rural health proposals with a timetable still uncertain.

With 2020 being a presidential election year, it is also unclear if both sides will work together to advance a more comprehensive health care bill to the President’s desk. The inability of Congress to advance surprise billing at the end of 2019 suggests rough waters could await politically for health care legislation in 2020.

Rural Health Bills Introduced in the Senate

In December, a broad bipartisan and bicameral rural health bill was introduced in the House and Senate. The Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act (H.R. 5481/S. 3103) seeks to allow a limited number of rural PPS hospitals to convert to Critical Access Hospitals.

The Senate bill was introduced by Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). The bill sponsors are hoping the bill will advance as part of a broader rural health package being put together by Senate Finance Chairman Grassley. NOSORH, along with the NRHA, has endorsed this bill.

Also recently introduced was the bipartisan Improving Access to Health Care in Rural and Underserved Act. The bill, S. 3194, was sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).  The bill would create a five-year pilot program that provides funding for up to 100 FQHCs and RHCs to boost capacity in specific areas of medical need.