What Is a Critical Access Hospital?

A Critical Access Hospital (CAH) is a hospital that has met certain requirements and has been certified by Medicare. Some of the requirements for CAH certification include:

  • No more than 25 inpatient beds
  • Annual average length of stay of no more than 96 hours for acute inpatient care
  • 24-hour, 7 day a week emergency care
  • Located in a rural area (at least 35 miles drive away from any other hospital or CAH)

The smaller hospital size and short stay length allows CAHs to focus on providing care for more common conditions and outpatient care, while referring other conditions to larger hospitals.

CAH Designation and Medicare Reimbursement

Designation allows CAHs to receive cost-based reimbursement from Medicare, instead of standard fixed reimbursement rates. This reimbursement has been shown to enhance the financial performance of small rural hospitals that were losing money prior to CAH conversion and thus reduce hospital closures (HRSA, 2015). This type of reimbursement also helps to ensure that rural populations are able to access essential health care services.