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Rural hospital closures concern senator

The closure of the Georgiana Hospital and others in Alabama concerns Senator Doug Jones.

Jones took time to discuss rural hospitals and other healthcare issues on a conference call from Washington, D.C. with Alabama reporters last week and said the trend needs to be reversed as many rural areas often do not have access to healthcare.

“There have been 13 hospitals close over the last several years,” he said. “Many of those have been in rural areas and we’re trying to do a number of things. We have been advocating a lot (Sen. Richard Shelby and Congresswoman Terri Sewell) to go a step further and had a meeting with the CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services) director about the wage index that reimbursements are artificially low in Alabama. That’s a big deal. There is now a proposed rule change that is now subject to public comment that is going to be able to give Alabama a leg up.”

Jones said the proposal would increase the reimbursement formula for a minimum of three years.

“If we can get that rule going into effect on the wage index, that is a big deal for Alabama,” Jones said. “The Alabama Hospital Association, the doctors and all of the stakeholders have been behind this. We need to get people to comment on it favorably to make sure that it goes in.”

Though he doesn’t have a say in it, Jones said Medicaid expansion could still help medical care in Alabama and the federal government may offer chances to again to states that had previously turned it down.

“The fact is that Alabama has lost out on billions of dollars,” he said. “We pay money into the Medicaid fund and so much of our money is going to other states that expanded Medicaid. Alabama needs to do that.”

Jones is co-author of a bill that would give a second chance for 14 states, mostly in the South.

“These are states that are poorer and also unhealthy,” Jones said. “They need this Medicaid expansion for their citizens. It would be a huge boost economically for these communities. The bill we have in now would give these states three years of 100 percent reimbursement and then step to the 90-10 system that exists now.”

Jones said the states can’t afford not to do the expansion.

“It helps our economy and it also helps health outcomes,” he said. “Study after study that we’ve seen from states that have expanded Medicaid show better health outcomes for citizens. It also helps other parts of the budgets of the state.”

Federally funded health clinics around Alabama are also in discussions in Washington, D.C.

“I met with some folks from North Alabama the other day and we’re going to try and help,” Jones said. “I’d like to see more federally-funded clinics in Alabama that are also part of the teaching clinics. Right now, we only have one in Blount County. We need to get those expanded to get doctors into rural areas that will then stay there.”

Jones said rural broadband would help rural hospitals when it comes to telemedicine.

“We’re trying to increase rural broadband across the state and get more money there,” Jones said. “Telehealth and telemedicine can be a big help. Rural health is so important to the people of Alabama.”

We hope Jones and his Republican colleague Sen. Shelby help find healthcare solutions that stretch across the aisle and have bipartisan support.