The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security yesterday held a hearing to examine health care experiences and costs in rural America. Topics ranged from workforce shortages to the cost of providing care in rural communities, declining inpatient volumes, new payment models, and the need to expand access to telehealth services as well as adequately reimburse for them. “We should stop thinking about rural health services in terms of bricks-and-mortar facilities and start thinking in terms of the real health problems that need to be solved in these communities,” said witness Alan Levine, president and CEO of Ballad Health, a 21-hospital integrated care delivery system based in Johnson City, Tenn. For example, he described how Ballad was able to repurpose rather than close a rural hospital to provide “the critical outpatient services, behavioral health, rehabilitation and drug addiction treatment that are so badly needed in the community.” He underscored the need for federal investment to enable these types of transitions as well as the need for reimbursement and regulatory policies that provide flexibility for rural providers. In a statement submitted for the hearing, AHA highlighted policy recommendations, emerging strategies and new models of care that can help preserve access to quality, affordable care in vulnerable rural communities.

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