AR Briefly

Rural emergency hospital proposal passes Arkansas Senate unanimously

By: - February 10, 2023 7:00 am

(Getty Images)

A proposed state law that could bolster federal funding for rural hospitals as an incentive to specialize in emergency and outpatient care passed the Arkansas Senate and was sent to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ desk Thursday.

House Bill 1127 received “yes” votes from all 34 senators, with one senator absent.

The bill passed the House with 95 “yes” votes and one “no” vote on Feb. 2, and passed the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Wednesday.

Rural Arkansas hospitals would be allowed, though not required, to attain “rural emergency hospital” designation that would attract more federal funds to those facilities if they reduce or eliminate inpatient services and focus on emergency and outpatient treatment.

Arkansas’ Medicaid program would reimburse rural emergency hospitals “at the same or greater rate in which critical access hospitals are reimbursed,” according to the bill.

The proposal is “a game-changer for rural health care in the state of Arkansas,” Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View), the bill’s Senate sponsor, told the Senate on Thursday.

Residents of rural areas need their local hospitals to be able to stabilize them in emergency situations and send them quickly to urban facilities that can give them more specialized care, Irvin said.

The bill stipulates several criteria for rural emergency designation, including:

  • Keeping emergency departments staffed 24 hours per day and seven days per week with a physician, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist or physician assistant.
  • Providing services that do not require patients to stay at the facility for more than 24 hours.
  • Maintaining a transfer agreement with a Level I or Level II trauma center in Arkansas, Missouri or Tennessee.
  • Paying an annual licensing fee of $500 to the Arkansas Department of Health.

The increased reimbursements should cover the annual licensing fee easily, Irvin said in response to a question from Sen. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville).

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.