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AUTHOR: Alan Watson,

Sen. Mark Green’s Dec. 6 column, “How To Save Rural Hospitals” accurately acknowledges a healthcare crisis in our state.

It is no secret many rural hospitals across Tennessee are facing trying financial circumstances and solutions to stabilize and improve the outlook for these facilities are crucial. Preserving access to quality healthcare – regardless of where you live – is a priority for hospitals and lawmakers alike.

When individuals don’t have health insurance, they often end up in emergency rooms, where the bulk of the cost of treatment is absorbed by hospitals. That is why for the past several years, Tennessee’s hospitals have strongly advocated in support of a state-based solution for Medicaid expansion that would, in part, help offset the significant financial stresses facing rural hospitals.

Such a solution would be a step in the right direction to help rural residents – many of whom are working – gain access to healthcare coverage and decrease uncompensated care costs. Expanded coverage for the state’s working poor would not be a wholesale fix for rural facilities, but it would help offset the $1.2 billion in uncompensated care costs Tennessee’s hospitals currently incur annually.

However, hospitals also recognize the changing landscape of healthcare in our country and how that impacts rural, suburban and urban facilities equally. Changes in the delivery of care and how care is paid for by commercial and government insurers require hospitals to look for new models that provide high-quality care and maintain access for all, while being financially solvent and sustainable.

That is exactly what the Tennessee Hospital Association is focused on through its Future of Rural Health Task Force. This group, made up of small and rural hospital leaders, met earlier this month to discuss models for community partnerships, leveraging existing resources and innovative approaches for maintaining a medical presence in rural communities.

As this work continues in the coming months, THA is committed to supporting its members and the communities they serve in navigating the current healthcare landscape.

The incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump will, without a doubt, work closely with Congress in the early months of his presidency to address healthcare policy in our country. While much remains to be seen, there are strong indications that more control will be given to states to find solutions that work for their citizens.

The approach our state takes to exercise this control to maximize benefits and coverage for the uninsured and underserved populations will be critically important. As hospitals, we look forward to collaborating with state lawmakers and government officials to review the many options before us and develop a plan that best serves the needs of Tennesseans, as well as those of our rural hospitals and communities.

Alan Watson is the Chief Executive Officer of Maury Regional Health System and currently serves as chairman of the Tennessee Hospital Association Board of Directors.

Read the full article here.