Washington, D.C.—This evening, the Senate passed a budget amendment authored by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) to help prevent hospitals from closing their doors and protect patients’ access to care, particularly in rural and underserved regions. Their amendment would strengthen and support the Provider Relief Fund, which has been a lifeline during the pandemic for hospitals, nursing homes, health centers and physician practices across the country, but especially in rural America. The amendment, which was co-sponsored by Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Rob Portman (R-OH), Angus King (I-ME), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was adopted by a vote of 99-1.
Senators Collins and Manchin’s amendment reflects a proposal authored by a bipartisan group they led in December, which would have provided an additional $35 billion for the Provider Relief Fund with a 20 percent set aside for rural health providers. The amendment is intended to modify the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which did not include any funding for the Provider Relief Fund.
“Given the indispensable nature of their services and how vital they are to the economic prosperity of their communities, I was astonished that the Administration’s $1.9 trillion health and economic recovery proposal did not provide additional relief for rural hospitals,” said Senator Collins. “Our amendment, which was based on a proposal made by our bipartisan group in December, will correct this oversight.”
“Last year, 18 rural hospitals closed across America and 3 of those closures were in West Virginia, which drastically impacted healthcare access across the state. The CARES Act passed last March established the Provider Relief Fund to support hospitals, health centers, clinics and providers who provide care to our most vulnerable Americans every day,” said Senator Manchin. “So far, Congress has appropriated $178 billion to this fund, yet only 6 percent of the funding has been directed to rural providers. I introduced the Save Our Rural Health Providers Act to create a 20 percent set aside in the Provider Relief Fund for these rural healthcare providers. Nearly 20 percent of Americans live in rural communities, making a 20 percent set aside only fair. We’re not asking for a handout, we’re just asking for our fair share and I am pleased my colleagues on both sides of the aisle supported my commonsense amendment.”
“After 24 years of being a tireless champion for rural healthcare and rural hospitals Senator Collins does it again. Not only does she ensure that all hospitals get needed relief from the COVID pandemic, she goes the extra mile and directs that 20% be designated for rural providers,” said Steven Michaud, President of the Maine Hospital Association. “This is what she has done for her entire career. She doesn’t just pay lip service—she produces for rural hospitals and rural Maine. It is her passion and it shows in the body of her work. These hospitals are on the front lines of this pandemic and Senator Collins efforts ensures that rural Mainers have access to healthcare all the while supporting some of the largest employers in rural Maine. Hospitals, their caregivers and patients are profoundly grateful.”
Over the last decade, 117 hospitals have closed, with 18 rural hospitals closing in 2020 alone. When the pandemic began, an estimated 70 percent of rural hospitals’ income dried up when patients avoided doctor’s appointments and states halted elective procedures, according to the National Rural Health Association.
Amid the ongoing pandemic, Senator Collins has worked hard to support rural and safety net hospitals. As part of Congress’ response to the pandemic, Senator Collins has supported legislation providing more than $4 trillion to address the public health and economic crisis, and she has secured more than $500 million for Maine’s health care providers. In June, sheintroduced the PPP for Critical Access Hospitals Act, legislation that allows nonprofit critical access hospitals to apply for forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.