GAO Report on Rural Hospital Closures

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recently released a report on rural hospital closures. GAO’s analysis of data from US Health and Human Services (HHS) and an HHS-funded research center shows that 64 rural hospitals closed from 2013 through 2017. This represents approximately 3 percent of all the rural hospitals in 2013 and more than twice the number of closures of the prior 5-year period. GAO’s analysis further shows that rural hospital closures disproportionately occurred in the South, among for-profit hospitals, and among hospitals that received the Medicare Dependent Hospital payment designation, one of the special Medicare payment designations for rural hospitals. According to literature GAO reviewed and stakeholders GAO interviewed, rural hospital closures were generally preceded and caused by financial distress. In particular, rural hospitals that closed typically had negative margins that made it difficult to cover their fixed costs. According to these sources, 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. In contrast, according to the literature GAO reviewed and stakeholders GAO interviewed, rural hospitals located in states that increased Medicaid eligibility and enrollment experienced fewer closures.

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