Shaheen, Hassan Urge HHS to Prioritize Frontline Rural Health Care Providers’ Access to Critical Federal Funding
**In the letter, the Senators call on HHS & HRSA to follow Congressional intent in the American Rescue Plan Act by approving applications for rural funding only for those providers that meet the clear statutory definition of ‘rural provider’**
(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan joined U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jon Tester (D-MT), Angus King (I-ME) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) in calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to protect rural health care providers’ access to funds set aside for them in the Provider Relief Fund (PRF). In their bipartisan letter, they urge the agencies to follow Congressional intent behind language included in the American Rescue Plan approving applications for rural funding only for those providers that meet the clear statutory definition of ‘rural provider.’
The letter comes after Senator Shaheen successfully pushed HHS to distribute $25.5 billion in remaining COVID-19 relief for health care providers through the Provider Relief Fund, an effort that Senator Hassan also supported. That funding includes $8.5 billion set aside for rural providers thanks to strong advocacy from Shaheen. However, despite rural providers’ urgent need for targeted federal resources to cover health care expenses and revenue losses caused by the pandemic, health care providers in large metropolitan areas will also have access to this fund.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had disproportionate impacts on rural communities, which were already experiencing staffing shortages and financial difficulties before COVID-19,” wrote the Senators. “In addition, rural communities are home to more vulnerable populations that are on average older, face higher rates of chronic health conditions and broadly lack access to the high-quality, affordable health care services that residents of urban areas enjoy.” The Senators noted that in 2020, at least 19 rural hospitals closed, exacerbating already limited access to care in rural areas.
The Senators continued, “Despite this obvious need, rural providers are often excluded from accessing federal funds by flawed definitions of ‘rural’ that are used by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) to determine whether entities are eligible to receive rural health grants from HRSA.”
To address this oversight, lawmakers negotiated language with the Biden administration in the ARPA that more clearly defined the definition of a ‘rural provider’ and noted that certain facilities located in metropolitan areas with smaller populations that serve rural patients are not required to be classified as rural providers, which can help ensure more frontline health care facilities located in rural areas are able to access this critical funding.
The Senators concluded by urging HHS to consider Congressional intent for the ARPA-Rural fund when approving applications for this funding to ensure rural health care providers have the resources they need to remain in the fight against COVID-19.
The full text of the letter can be read here.
Senator Shaheen recently welcomed news that funding through the PRF and ARP rural distribution would open after she and Senator Collins pushed HHS to distribute $25.5 billion in remaining COVID-19 relief for health care providers. During negotiations with the Senate and White House on the American Rescue Plan, Shaheen helped steer efforts to increase funding for the Provider Relief Fund to ensure hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers on the frontlines have the support they need to keep their doors open and continue to care for Granite Staters and Americans across the country. Shaheen also defended the Provider Relief Fund from being considered as a pay-for amid negotiations on the historic bipartisan infrastructure legislation that recently cleared the Senate.
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