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Sen. Hyde-Smith urges survey participation

One of the state’s U.S. senators is urging Mississippians to participate in a nationwide U.S. Health and Human Services initiative to find ways to improve health care in rural America.

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican elected official from Brookhaven, said the federal Rural Health Task Force, through the Health Resources and Services Administration, has issued a request for information from the public on how to make rural health care more accessible, affordable and sustainable.

The deadline to receive the information is Oct. 9 at noon.

“Health care in Mississippi has its challenges, including rural hospital closures,” Hyde-Smith said. “I believe Mississippians can provide many good ideas and information on what is and what isn’t working in rural areas. This material can help the Department of Health and Human Services begin to improve how its rules and regulations can support rural health care.”

Alvin Hoover, chief executive officer of King’s Daughters Medical Center, hopes many who respond will highlight a need for Medicaid reform in Mississippi.

“Sen. Hyde-Smith has been a champion for rural healthcare, particularly in Mississippi, long before she joined the U.S. Senate. I appreciate her call for information and continued leadership in addressing the challenges of rural healthcare,” he said. “MS Cares is our ‘silver bullet’ to improve the health status of Mississippians and prevent rural hospital closures.”

Through MS Cares, coverage is provided to non-disabled adults age 19-64 who are earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level —$17,326 for an individual or about $35,000 for a family of four in 2019. This population in Mississippi is estimated to be about 163,000 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Those covered will pay $20/month per enrollee in premium payments. There will be a $100 co-pay for non-emergency use of the hospital emergency department if there is a federally qualified health center, rural health clinic, or urgent care center within 20 miles of the hospital. Co-pays will mirror those found in Mississippi’s traditional fee-for-service Medicaid.

“With a return of nine federal dollars for every dollar we send, this will bring $1 billion into our state economy for healthcare, and is true Medicaid reform,” he said.

Hyde-Smith said it is important to hear from people who use rural healthcare.

“Too often, rules written in Washington do not fully take into account the needs of rural America,” she said. “I urge Mississippians to participate in this process as a greater focus is placed on meeting the needs of rural residents.”

Background and instructions to submit material to the Rural Health Task Force is available at www.hrsa.gov/rural-health/rfi-rural-health-care-access.

Rural hospitals face financial and operational difficulties, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration. Approximately 2,000 of the country’s 5,000-plus acute care hospitals are located in rural areas, and 112 rural hospitals closed between 2010 and 2019. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that rural hospital closures were generally preceded and caused by financial distress, which was related to multiple factors including decreased numbers of patients seeking inpatient care at rural hospitals and reductions in payments.