USA Today Front Pager: Under Obamacare, 'Rural Hospitals In Critical Condition'

Here’s an easy nomination for the front-page newspaper story most likely to be spiked by the TV networks. It’s on the front of Friday’s USA Today: “Rural hospitals in critical condition: Obamacare critics say law speeding up demise of facilities.”

Reporters Jayne O’Donnell and Laura Ungar began in Richland, Georgia, whose 25-bed Stewart Webster Hospital had to close, and now the locals have to travel up to 40 miles to other hospitals. How many sympathetic TV stories have we seen complaining about the closure of abortion clinics that cause abotion seekers to drive longer?

O’Donnell and Ungar reported:

Since the beginning of 2010, 43 rural hospitals — with a total of more than 1,500 beds — have closed, according to data from the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. The pace of closures has quickened: from 3 in 2010 to 13 in 2013, and 12 already this year. Georgia alone has lost five rural hospitals since 2012, and at least six more are teetering on the brink of collapse. Each of the state's closed hospitals served about 10,000 people — a lot for remaining area hospitals to absorb.

The Affordable Care Act was designed to improve access to health care for all Americans and will give them another chance at getting health insurance during open enrollment starting this Saturday. But critics say the ACA is also accelerating the demise of rural outposts that cater to many of society's most vulnerable. These hospitals treat some of the sickest and poorest patients — those least aware of how to stay healthy. Hospital officials contend that the law's penalties for having to re-admit patients soon after they're released are impossible to avoid and create a crushing burden.

The stand-alone, community hospital is going the way of the dinosaur," says Angela Mattie, chairwoman of the health care management and organizational leadership department at Connecticut's Quinnipiac University, known for its public opinion surveys on issues including public health.

The closings threaten to decimate a network of rural hospitals the federal government first established beginning in the late 1940s to ensure that no one would be without health care. It was a theme that resonated during the push for the new health law. But rural hospital officials and others say that federal regulators — along with state governments — are now starving the hospitals they created with policies and reimbursement rates that make it nearly impossible for them to stay afloat.

It’s very likely this is just another negative story on Obamacare that the networks are going to refuse to acknowledge.

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