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Fed Pledges to Rural Providers Strike the Right Notes

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 6, 2013

It's easy for federal officials to acknowledge with great fanfare the special concerns of rural healthcare stakeholders. Making good on promises to address those concerns, however, is never guaranteed.

Still, it was hard not to be impressed this week after listening in on pledges made to rural healthcare stakeholders during a teleconference that included Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Patrick Conway, MD, CMO and director of clinical standards and quality at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The three senior officials detailed Medicare reforms that they determined were obsolete or excessively burdensome on hospitals and healthcare providers. Eliminating those bewhiskered regulations, by CMS estimates, could save nearly $676 million annually—$3.4 billion over five years—and would greatly ease regulatory and staffing burdens for rural providers in particular.

Conway ran through a list of already implemented reforms and proposed reforms that:

  • Eliminate a requirement that critical access hospitals provide diagnostic, therapeutic, laboratory, radiology, and emergency room services directly by staff. Those services can now be contracted out, Conway says, "to provide high-quality care and better access to care when staffing becomes a challenge."
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