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What We’re Reading: Rural Hospitals Experience Financial Problems; Lawmakers Question Nursing Home Spending; Medicare Advantage Hospice Pilot Program Ends Early

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Fifty percent of US rural hospitals are facing financial problems; US lawmakers have called out the corporate spending of 3 large nursing home companies; hospice patients under Medicare Advantage are now facing uncertainty after the government ended its pilot program.

US Rural Hospitals Face Financial Problems

A recent report from health care consultancy Chartis showed that 50% of US rural hospitals are facing financial problems, according to Axios. Compared with last year, Chartis found a 7% increase of rural hospitals in the red this year, the single largest percentage change it has seen in a 12-month period. Although government aid during the COVID-19 pandemic helped alleviate some financial pressure on rural hospitals, most of these programs have ended. The growth of Medicare Advantage is also contributing to financial problems as its popularity is cutting into traditional Medicare enrollment, which is a typically better funding source for rural hospitals. Chartis noted that these financial problems may result in a loss of health care access for millions of rural Americans.

Nursing Home Staffing, Spending Questioned by Lawmakers

Three senators and 2 House representatives have called out the corporate spending of 3 large nursing home companies as the industry protests a new minimum staffing rule, according to USA Today. On Sunday, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D, Massachusetts), Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut), and Bernie Sanders (I, Vermont), along with Representatives Lloyd Doggett (D, Texas) and Jan Schakowsky (D, Illinois), sent letters to executives of National Healthcare Corp., the Ensign Group Inc., and Brookdale Senior Living Inc. In the letters, the lawmakers questioned the nearly $650 million the companies spent on stock buybacks, executive compensation, and dividends since 2018; the lawmakers said this spending undermines the claim that nursing homes cannot afford enough staff to meet the Biden administration’s new minimum staffing requirements. Other answers requested include each company’s average pay and tenure for their nurse aides and registered nurses, as well as any complaints submitted by their nurses about pay or staffing levels.

Medicare Advantage Hospice Pilot Program Ends, Leaves Seniors in Limbo

Hospice patients under Medicare Advantage are now facing uncertainty after the government ended its pilot program, according to Newsweek. Medicare announced a pilot program in 2021 that offered hospice coverage through Medicare Advantage. Many issues emerged when the program began, including limited care coordination, hospice care options, and quality monitoring. As a result, Medicare announced in March that it was ending the pilot program 5 years earlier than scheduled due to operational issues and a reportedly low amount of interest in the program. Although those on Medicare Advantage will still have hospice coverage under traditional Medicare, the pilot program attempted to streamline the process through Medicare Advantage. Looking ahead, many health care providers and beneficiaries still hope that Medicare Advantage will find a way to integrate its coverage options with hospice.

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