Blunt introduces bipartisan Strengthening Rural Health Clinics Act

A bipartisan bill introduced on March 23 by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) would amend the Social Security Act to fix a legislative error toward improving rural health clinic payments.

“Many Missourians rely on rural health clinics for affordable, quality care close to home,” Sen. Blunt said. “This bill will fix a technical error to protect these clinics from added financial strain on top of the challenges they’ve faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Specifically, the Strengthening Rural Health Clinics Act of 2021, S. 934, which Sen. Blunt cosponsored with bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), would make a technical fix to protect existing rural health clinics from an unexpected Medicare payment rate change caused by the COVID-19 relief bill signed into law in December 2020, according to information provided by Sen. Blunt’s office.

The COVID-19 law included a provision to reform Medicare payment rates for future rural health clinics that was intended to grandfather existing rural health clinics at their current payment rates to ensure their financial stability, according to the information. 

However, a technical error excluded clinics that were established after December 2019, resulting in hundreds of rural health clinics nationwide now facing financial uncertainty.

If enacted, S. 934 would amend existing law to grandfather at the 2020 or first-year payment rate any qualified rural health clinic that was in existence, in mid-build, or that had either submitted an application or had a binding written agreement with an outside unrelated party for the construction, purchase, lease, or other establishment of such a rural health clinic prior to Dec. 31, 2020.

A number of organizations endorsed S. 934, including the Missouri Hospital Association, the Missouri Rural Health Association, the Missouri Farm Bureau, the National Association of Rural Health Clinics, and the National Rural Health Association.

“I urge our colleagues to join us in supporting the vital role these clinics play in improving health care — and the quality of life — in rural communities,” said Sen. Blunt.