April 12, 2020

We Must Support Rural Healthcare | AARP West Virginia Update

Rural hospitals and healthcare providers throughout West Virginia are the first line of defense in the communities they serve.  Already, our rural healthcare providers often operate on shoestring budgets to provide the best possible care to the populations they serve.  As we fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot allow these rural hospitals and providers to close.  That's why I've been advocating for dedicated funding for our rural healthcare providers and increased telehealth options to fill the void throughout this uncertain time. 

I urged officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on several occasions to increase support for rural healthcare providers. I led a bipartisan letter with 19 of my Senate colleagues urging HHS to use my formula to prioritize funding for rural providers and providers with high percentages of Medicaid and Medicare patients as they distribute the remainder of the $100 billion in healthcare funding I fought for in the CARES Act.  Without a change to the formula, West Virginia will continue to get pennies on the dollar.  Our healthcare providers got less than 1% of the first $30 billion.  That's unacceptable. 

I also called on Senate leadership to clarify that the intent of the CARES Act was to allow publicly owned hospitals to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA). A number of rural hospitals across West Virginia have been told by SBA they are not eligible.  If the Administration cannot or will not fix this on their own, this must be fixed in the next legislative package.  Our rural hospitals cannot afford to wait, and we cannot afford to let them close their doors during this pandemic. 

I also spoke with HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan on the phone last week and asked him to move faster to issue guidance on from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on the implementation of audio-only telehealth services.  As we encourage social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, telehealth services are becoming more vital than ever to keep our communities healthy and safe.  In many areas of West Virginia, we lack reliable broadband coverage so audio-only telehealth is our only option. 

West Virginians are strong and we will get through this together.  I will do my part by continuing to fight to ensure every rural healthcare provider in our state has the resources they need to provide the best care possible to serve the patients in their communities.

By:  Senator Joe Manchin
Source: AARP