Hospitals and health systems are prioritizing preserving access to care for patients in rural America, including via access points like hospital outpatient departments that provide essential services for rural and low-income communities, according to a new AHA report released Jan. 25. The report details how hospitals have been a lifeline for struggling rural physician practices helping to keep their doors open, and HOPDs have remained convenient, high-quality access points for rural patients with more complex care needs. Among other findings, hospitals were two and a half times more likely to acquire physician practices in rural areas than other entities, including commercial insurers which are overwhelmingly focused on larger and more profitable markets.

“HOPDs provide care for Medicare patients who are more likely to be sicker and more medically complex than those treated at physicians’ offices while also being held to stricter safety and regulatory requirements,” the report notes. “This is especially true in rural communities, and additional site-neutral funding cuts being considered by Congress would have a direct impact on the level of care and services available to vulnerable patients in these communities. The AHA continues to urge Congress to reject Medicare payment cuts that would reduce access to essential care and services in communities, especially those in rural and underserved areas.” 

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