WASHINGTON—U.S. Sens Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., have introduced bipartisan legislation to help rural hospitals stay open to provide emergency care and outpatient services. The Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital Act would create a new Rural Emergency Hospital classification under Medicare to strengthen support for hospitals that maintain an emergency room and provide outpatient services but do not provide the inpatient beds that many hospitals are struggling to maintain, a news release from Klobuchar's office said.

"Our rural hospitals are essential institutions in communities across Minnesota. They don't just provide vital health services, they employ thousands of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care workers," Klobuchar said. "Millions of people depend on keeping these hospitals open. Our bipartisan legislation will help ensure that rural Minnesotans and Americans across the country have access to medical care when and where they need it most."

Under Medicare, many rural hospitals are designated as Critical Access Hospitals, meaning they have to maintain a certain amount of inpatient beds as well as an emergency room. Many hospitals struggle to attract enough inpatients to keep their Critical Access Hospital status. When they close their doors, it often means a community loses its emergency services. Studies show that proximity to an emergency room often means the difference between life and death.

The REACH Act provides hospitals with a new option—enhanced support for key emergency and outpatient services. Rural Emergency Hospitals would maintain some protocols despite no longer supporting inpatient services, such as being able to rapidly move a patient to a larger hospital elsewhere that offers more services, the release said.

Sixty percent of trauma deaths in the United States occur in rural areas, where only 15 percent of the population is represented. This reflects in part the accelerating pace of rural hospital closures and challenges faced by many other hospitals that are struggling to keep their doors open—hospitals that could benefit from the REACH Act, the release said.