A solution for rural hospitals

By Sen. Lucia Guzman

Delta. Montrose. Lincoln. Teller. Fremont. Las Animas. Morgan. Garfield.

These are a handful of counties in rural Colorado that are home to hospitals. Hospitals that not only provide access to life-saving health care for residents, but are most likely the area’s largest employer. These hospitals are typically smaller than their urban counterparts, but they are pillars in their communities, empowering people to build their lives in the towns they have called home for years.

As we enter the second half of the 2017 legislative session, fixing our budget shortage while addressing funding for roads and bridges has been the top priority. But a significant part of the conversation flying under the radar as of late is the hundreds of millions in health care cuts being proposed to make up our budget shortage. Cuts which would result in $195 million matching federal dollars for Colorado’s hospitals being lost.

For rural hospitals already struggling financially to keep their doors open, the $147 million in matching federal dollars they received last year meant expanding services, like cardiology and 24/7 surgery. It also meant replacing broken down and outdated medical equipment, and keeping thousands of people in their jobs at the hospitals. In the cases where a hospital is the only one for miles, keeping it open means preventing that community’s biggest employer from shutting down, and making sure the community’s people have a place where they can go see a doctor in an emergency. 

Rural Colorado is home to nearly half of Colorado’s seniors, and to families with a 27-percent lower median income than urban families. Rural hospitals depend on matching federal dollars to maintain services and jobs. If those hospitals shut down, that means jobs will be lost, health-care facilities could close, and communities could see an exodus of longtime residents.

In other words, for rural hospitals and their communities, every dollar counts.

That’s why with this year’s budget, losing out on $195 million in matching federal dollars would be catastrophic for rural hospitals and their communities. However, we have a bipartisan solution at our fingertips. Right now, dollars collected from the Hospital Provider Fee (HPF) pushes our collections over the TABOR cap. We can’t use the HPF to pay the rebates, so these must come from the general fund.

By moving the HPF into an enterprise fund, we could not only prevent our hospitals from losing out on these critical funds, but would free up existing money for critical needs like education.

This bipartisan solution honors the spirit and voters’ intent on TABOR, and has received support from rural organizations, hospital associations, chambers of commerce, and business groups across the state. With the health of our rural communities at risk, we cannot afford to fail to pass legislation that achieves this bipartisan solution.

Lucia Guzman is the Senate Democratic Leader, and represents Senate District 34 in Denver.


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