March 31, 2020

Udall, Heinrich, Torres Small Join Bipartisan Push for Federal Assistance to Rural Hospitals Responding to COVID-19 Pandemic

In letter to HHS Secretary Azar, 122 lawmakers urge administration to provide immediate financial assistance to rural hospitals amid COVID-19 pandemic

33 New Mexico hospitals serve primarily rural areas

WASHINGTON  U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) joined 41 senators and 81 representatives in sending a bipartisan letter to U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar urging him to direct funding included in the recently passed CARES Act to sustain small and rural hospitals. The CARES Act created a $100 billion grant program for hospitals and other health care providers combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the New Mexico Hospital Association, 33 of their 46 members serve primarily rural areas. Ten hospitals in the state were designated as Critical Access Hospitals by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in FY2019.  

The lawmakers point out that the vast majority of rural hospitals have ceased performing elective procedures and seeing non-urgent patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly reduced revenue and threatens financial viability. In their letter, the lawmakers urge Azar to take immediate steps to provide financial relief for rural providers during this global pandemic:

“We are hearing from rural hospitals from across the country that have only days left of cash on hand – money needed for payroll and supplies,” wrote the lawmakers. “Mr. Secretary, our rural providers need your immediate assistance. Congress has provided you with the funding and flexibility. Now it is up to the administration to respond with rapid action to sustain rural providers. Any unnecessary delay will only worsen this situation. Therefore, we request you make the financial relief of rural hospitals a priority. Rural hospitals need access to financial resources immediately and in the most streamlined manner.”

The lawmakers also request the administration host a teleconference with members of Congress by April 3, 2020 to provide an update on how they intend to assist rural providers and hospitals across the country.

Read the full letter here and below.

Dear Secretary Azar,

Rural hospitals are the backbone of communities across our nation. These providers are on the frontlines combating the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. It is imperative these health care professionals receive the immediate support they need to continue caring for our communities.

Small and rural hospitals across the nation are facing an acute financial crisis. Even before this crisis, nearly one-half of rural hospitals were operating at a financial loss, and hundreds were on the brink of closure. Now, they are confronting impossible choices during this public health emergency. The administration must focus on ensuring the financial viability of these providers. Failure to take fast and aggressive action will put the health of our communities at further risk. 

In response to this crisis, Congress has enacted a series of bipartisan laws to rescue our economy and health care system. Most recently, we passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This legislation includes new funding to provide financial relief for hospitals. The CARES Act provides you with the flexibility to deliver assistance where it is needed most. Right now, some rural hospitals are reporting they are running out of operating funds. This jeopardizes their ability to maintain health care services during the COVID-19 outbreak. We cannot afford to ignore their pressing needs. 

The vast majority of rural hospitals have also ceased performing elective procedures and seeing non-urgent patients. They know the COVID-19 emergency confronting our country must take precedence. However, these actions threaten their financial viability. We are hearing from rural hospitals from across the country that have only days left of cash-on-hand – money needed for payroll and supplies. 

Mr. Secretary, our rural providers need your immediate assistance. Congress has provided you with the funding and flexibility. Now it is up to the administration to respond with rapid action to sustain rural providers. Any unnecessary delay will only worsen this situation.

Therefore, we request you make the financial relief of rural hospitals a priority. Rural hospitals need access to financial resources immediately and in the most streamlined manner. We also request you provide Members of Congress with a personal briefing by teleconference by April 3, 2020.

Thank you for your attention to ensuring the health and well-being of patients in rural America. We welcome the opportunity to discuss your efforts addressing our concerns.