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President’s budget cuts jeopardize rural health care safety net

The President’s budget request released yesterday allocated $76.4 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services, but called for cuts to the Office of Rural Health Policy, Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) and Rural Health Flexibility Grants. The Discretionary Program decreases in the budget include the Rural Health Flexibility Grant Funding Line, down $15 million. In 2012, Congress appropriated $41 million for the Rural Hospital Flexibility program, which consists of two grant activities – the Rural Hospital Flex program and the Small Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP). The Rural Hospital Flex program is fully funded in the 2013 budget at $26 million. The President did not request funding for Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) and Rural & Community Access to Emergency Devices, according to Health Resources and Services Administration Justification for fiscal year 2013. The Administration proposes to reduce payments to CAHs from 101 percent to 100 percent of reasonable costs, effective in 2013, and to eliminate the CAH designation for those that are fewer than 10 miles from the nearest hospital, effective in 2014. This will save $2 billion over 10 years, according to the Administration. The National Rural Health Association  strongly supports the rural health care safety net, and cuts to the above programs will be devastating to rural hospitals, clinics, health centers and other facilities, as well as recruiting a rural workforce. Cuts to the fragile safety net will cause hospital doors to close and eliminate access to rural health care for millions of rural Americans. Please continue to monitor this blog for updates and developments.

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