U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) released the following statement today following the announcement that Pickens County Medical Center will close its doors this Friday, March 6, 2020:
“Today’s announcement that Pickens County Medical Center will close at the end of this week is devastating news for the Pickens County community and the nearly 150 Alabamians who work there. This closure stands as a stark, real-world reminder of what is at stake: access to quality care and hundreds of Alabama jobs.
“We are in a crisis. Since 2010, 14 Alabama hospitals have been forced to close their doors, and too many others have been forced to cut essential services. Not only are our rural hospitals critical to providing the care Alabamians need to stay well, they are also economic drivers in the communities in which they serve. The Pickens County hospital, for example, is critical to the federal prison in Aliceville, local paper mill, and thousands of small businesses and residents across the county. When the hospital closes on Friday, thousands of residents of Pickens County will have to drive nearly an hour for hospital services.
“I am incredibly disappointed and frustrated by Governor Ivey and the state legislature’s inaction when it comes to solutions to help sustain our rural hospitals. First and foremost, they must put partisanship aside and immediately expand Medicaid to help the rural hospitals struggling to make ends meet.
“I am committed to fighting for a long-term federal solution to keep our hospitals afloat, which will include increased Medicare reimbursement for rural hospitals.”
Last Friday, Sewell sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and urged him in a Ways and Means Committee hearing to provide immediate emergency assistance for Pickens County Medical Center.
Over 88 percent of rural Alabama hospitals operating in the red, and more than 90% of rural hospitals closures have been in states that did not expand Medicaid before the time of the closure. Studies show rural hospitals in non-expansion states are disproportionately operating in the red and are the most likely to close and more than 15,000 deaths could have been prevented if all states expanded Medicaid.
Sewell has introduced legislation to ensure that all states that expand Medicaid coverage under the terms of the Affordable Care Act receive an equal federal match for expansion, regardless of when a state chooses to expand Medicaid coverage in an effort to incentivize states like Alabama to expand the program. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
And earlier this year, Sewell was successful in working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to increase Medicare reimbursement rates for Alabama’s hospitals by addressing longstanding disparities in the Medicare Area Wage Index formula. Those increased rates were implemented on January 1, 2020.