ISSAQUAH — A bill from U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier would provide mandatory emergency grants and other benefits for rural hospitals as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Schrier, D-Sammamish, introduced the Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act of 2020 with U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican. Both are doctors. Schrier represents Washington’s 8th Congressional District, which includes Chelan County and East Wenatchee.

“Rural hospitals play a critical role in our health care system to ensure everyone has access to care,” she said in a news release. “Right now, they are facing unprecedented challenges and urgently need the resources to respond. This bipartisan legislation will get the funding needed to support rural hospitals and providers that are on the frontline of this pandemic. We cannot lose our rural hospitals.”

The legislation would:

  • Provide one-time grants to critical access hospitals and rural prospective payment system hospitals equaling $1,000 per patient per day. It would also provide one-time grants for these hospitals equaling the total reimbursement received for services for the first three months of 2019.
  • Offer a 20% increase in Medicare reimbursement for any patient in a rural hospital using the swing bed program to incentivize freeing up space.
  • Provide one-time grants for all providers and ambulatory surgery centers equal to their total payroll for the first three months of 2019.
  • Authorize the Small Business Administration to provide low-interest loans to providers and ambulatory surgery centers at a 0.25% interest rate that would not accrue until two years after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.

“The COVID-19 crisis is straining the resources of all rural hospitals, and without relief, access to health care services in my community and others will be threatened,” Diane Blake, CEO of Cascade Medical Center in Leavenworth, said in the release. “Rep. Schrier’s bill would support rural hospitals and the communities they serve, and prevent long-term damage to our health care delivery system.”

Jennifer Best, business development coordinator for Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, said keeping most patients out of the hospital has significantly affected revenue.

“It’s a relief to see Congress addressing this, and we’re hopeful they’ll come through with some help for small hospitals like Three Rivers,” she said in an email. “We were heartened to hear that the Senate included $150 billion for health care in its $2 trillion package, and now we’re waiting along with everyone else to hear what the House decides. ... We’re glad that the government seems to agree that this is not the time for more rural hospitals to be at risk of closing.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, was one of 28 congress members to sign a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell requesting additional resources for rural health care providers amid the COVID-19 crisis.