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Will Tennessee see more of its small, rural hospitals close?

Tenn. News Service

WASHINGTON, DC  (TNS/WMOT)  -- Tennessee’s rural hospitals could take a big financial hit if Congress doesn't act quickly.

Two federal programs that help provide supplemental funding to rural hospitals will come to an end the first of the month.

Rural hospitals typical treat a lot of Medicare patients, but the federal program doesn’t always cover the full cost of care. The supplemental funds compensate hospitals for some of the lost revenue.

The Federation of American Hospitals says 34 Tennessee hospitals need the supplemental payments to keep their doors open. Chip Kahn is the Federation’s spokesman.

"The trouble is that these communities depend on these hospitals and without these extra resources the hos pitals will be constrained and have to make changes."

Kahn says some rural Tennessee hospitals will likely close, while others will be forced to make painful cuts.

"It actually will lead to sort of a drip drip drip, where birthing services or other types of services that are particularly expensive, those kinds of services will probably begin to decline."

In addition, Kahn argues that these hospitals are often a rural community’s largest employer, providing some of the best paying local jobs. So in addition to losing vital medical services, Tennessee’s small towns may also suffer economic losses.

Opponents of the supplemental federal funding argue there are more cost effective ways to provide the same services in rural communities.