Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, hospital closures were increasing in rural communities across the nation: 116 rural hospitals closed between 2010 and 2019. Over the past two years, federal relief has helped stabilize facilities, and the pace of closures slowed. However, this assistance was temporary, and rural hospitals continue to struggle financially and to recruit and retain nurses and other health care employees.
Against this backdrop, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) conducted a series of interviews over the last year with rural hospital leaders from eight states—Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming—as well as with health policy experts from federal and state government, national organizations, provider organizations, and academia. The goal was to gain on-the-ground insights into today’s rural health care landscape, where the population is older, sicker, and less likely to be insured or seek preventive services than in urban areas.
Today in rural America, roughly 1 out of every 3 individuals are enrolled in the Medicare program and nearly 1 in 4 individuals under age 65 rely on Medicaid as their primary source of health care coverage. Although all payers should be part of the solution in ensuring access to quality rural health care, this report largely focuses on strengthening rural health care delivery in Medicare and Medicaid given the outsized role these public programs play in rural communities.