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New Report on Rural Health Care Landscape Post-COVID

Washington, DC – Sixty million Americans—one-third of the U.S. population—live in rural areas. With over 116 rural hospitals closing their doors between 2010 and 2019, many rural residents are forced to travel long distances to receive health care.

While rural hospitals that were struggling pre-pandemic have been able to keep their doors open thanks to COVID-19 federal relief funds, as the public health emergency draws to a close and federal relief funds dry up the question lingers: What will care look like in rural America?

A new BPC report, The Impact of COVID-19 on the Rural Health Care Landscape, examines the ongoing financial and workforce-related challenges facing rural hospitals and lays out short- and long-term policy recommendations to strengthen rural care, as well as serve as a bridge as health care systems exit the pandemic.

Stakeholders in eight states—Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming—helped provide insight into today’s rural health care landscape and the impact further hospital closures could have on their residents.

The report provides an assessment of the rural hospital and health landscape, offering policy recommendations in four key areas:

  • Provide immediate stabilization for rural hospitals, rural health clinics, and federal qualified health centers;
  • Strengthen the Rural Emergency Hospital model and advance other rural care delivery transformations;
  • Ensure an adequate rural health care workforce; and
  • Secure access to virtual care in rural communities.

“While all payers must be part of the solution to ensure quality health care services remain accessible in rural America, our report focuses on strengthening health care delivery in Medicare and Medicaid given the outsized role these public programs play in rural communities,” said Julia Harris, senior policy analyst for BPC’s health project. “Today in rural America, roughly 1 out of every 3 individuals are enrolled in the Medicare program and nearly 1 in 44 under age 65 rely on Medicaid.”

Read the full report.