State Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) sounded the alarm Aug. 26 over recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that could imperil access to rural healthcare across Wisconsin.
By imposing arbitrary distance regulations based on proximity to other hospitals, federal health officials are poised to strip more than 50 rural Wisconsin healthcare providers of their “Critical Access Hospital” designation (CAH). According to Schultz, the effect would be devastating for healthcare providers and the rural communities they serve.
“This proposal betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how and where healthcare is delivered in places like southwestern Wisconsin,” said Schultz. “My genuine fear is, should these recommendations become law, hospitals will struggle to stay open, meaning people will have to drive 20 or 30 miles further for care. If the Washington bureaucrats behind this had to drive a loved one to an emergency room during a January snowstorm in southwestern Wisconsin, they would realize this is just bad policy."
Created by Congress in 1997 to stem a nationwide tide of rural hospital closures, the CAH program permits rural medical centers to receive Medicare reimbursements at 101 percent of allowable costs. Hoping to cut spending, the federal government now proposes to implement new standards that likely would revoke the Critical Access status of many Wisconsin hospitals.
“There are 11 Critical Access Hospitals in or near my district, and all 11 of them are threatened by this proposal,” said Schultz. “So naturally I’m deeply concerned by the signals coming from Washington, and the implications of downsizing this vitally important program.”
The 11 southwestern Wisconsin healthcare providers currently designated as Critical Access Hospitals are: Southwest Health Center in Platteville, Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville, Reedsburg Area Medical Center, Vernon Memorial Healthcare in Viroqua, Boscobel Area Healthcare, Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital, Grant Regional Health Center in Lancaster, Tomah Memorial Hospital, Memorial Hospital in Darlington, and Gundersen-St. Joseph's Hospital and Clinics in Hillsboro.