Side Note

Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid cause rural hospitals to close

In yet another example of how Republicans literally could not give less of a fuck about the poor, a study by the Government Accountability Office has found that there is a direct correlation between cuts to Medicare and Medicaid programs and closures of rural hospitals in the South.

The study examined the factors that caused 64 rural hospitals — mostly in the South, all of them for-profit — to shut down due to financial insolvency. The GAO found that these hospitals’ “financial distress has been exacerbated in recent years by multiple factors, including the decrease in patients seeking inpatient care and across-the-board Medicare payment reductions.” Meanwhile, the GAO wrote that hospitals located in states who expanded their Medicaid programs rather than cut them experienced “substantially lower likelihood of closure, especially in rural markets and counties with large numbers of uninsured adults before Medicaid expansion.”

When a rural hospital closes, it can have devastating effects on a community. “Rural hospitals are often the largest or second largest employer in their communities,” George Pink of the North Carolina Rural Health Center Research Program told the Senate Finance Committee in May — meaning that in addition to depriving individuals in economically depressed areas of healthcare, the closure of rural hospitals actively contributes to a struggling community’s financial woes.

Given that for-profit rural hospitals are so dependent upon government funding, there comes a certain point when it feels prudent to ask: Why can’t the government just cut out the middleman, buy up struggling rural hospitals, and give free healthcare to the people who need it most? If the government is already effectively paying for such hospitals to keep going, they might as well redirect the money into something that guarantees jobs and also people not dying. That seems like a better idea than the government sitting on its hands as impoverished rural areas spiral into crisis.