A Florida Senate committee approved a proposal for creating “rural emergency hospitals” to address healthcare shortages in rural areas, following a federal law allowing such hospitals and making them eligible for Medicare payments.
A Senate committee on Tuesday approved a proposal that would create a new category of “rural emergency hospitals” in the state, with backers saying it would help address healthcare needs in rural areas.
“When you travel around my district, in many respects, it is a healthcare desert,” said bill sponsor Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican who represents a sprawling, heavily rural area of North Florida.
A federal law, signed in December 2020, allowed the creation of rural emergency hospitals and made them eligible for Medicare payments. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website said hospitals that convert to the new designation can provide emergency services, observation care, and outpatient services that do not exceed an average length of stay of 24 hours.
The website said they are prohibited from providing inpatient services. A Florida Senate staff analysis said rural hospitals in DeFuniak Springs, Williston, and Lake City have closed since 2010 and that 136 rural hospitals closed nationally between 2010 and 2021.
David Mica, a lobbyist for the Florida Hospital Association, told the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday that the bill (SB 644) is an opportunity for rural hospitals to “look at different models.”
Senate Majority Leader Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who represents a heavily rural district, praised the bill.
“This is a much bigger deal than many folks would realize, especially in the lives of rural Floridians,” Albritton said.
Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, has filed a House version (HB 309) of the bill.