Minimum-Distance Requirements Could Harm High-Performing Critical-Access Hospitals And Rural Communities
Author: Michelle M. Casey, Ira Moscovice, G. Mark Holmes, George H. Pink, Peiyin Hung
Since the inception of the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program in 1997, over 1,300 rural hospitals have converted to critical-access hospitals, which entitles them to Medicare cost-based reimbursement instead of reimbursement based on the hospital prospective payment system (PPS). Several changes to eligibility for critical-access status have recently been proposed. Most of the changes focus on mandating that hospitals be located a certain minimum distance from the nearest hospital. Our study found that critical-access hospitals located within fifteen miles of another hospital generally are larger, provide better quality, and are financially stronger compared to critical-access hospitals located farther from another hospital. Returning to the PPS would have considerable negative impacts on critical-access hospitals that are located near another hospital. We conclude that establishing a minimum-distance requirement would generate modest cost savings for Medicare but would likely be disruptive to the communities that depend on these hospitals for their health care.