Rural hospitals play a vital role in delivering quick emergent care to people in some of the more isolated areas of the country. These institutions provide 24/7 emergency services to rural communities where the next closest hospital could be 35 miles away or more. But because they often serve so few people, it’s hard for them to be financially successful. So the federal government set up the critical access hospital program, whereby hospitals meeting certain criteria would receive Medicare refunds at 101 percent of reasonable costs.
Since the program began in 1997, 1,331 hospitals have been given critical access hospital status, 35 of which are in Missouri. But policy makers are beginning to question whether that’s too many for the government to handle financially.