Look alive as hospitals close and cut services, lawmakers urge HHS

Hospital closures, service reductions, mergers and acquisitions are creating a bed shortage and impeding patients' access to timely care, a group of Massachusetts lawmakers contend in a letter to HHS that requests information from the agency on its part in monitoring or interfering with service reductions.

Citing more than a dozen studies, analyses and news articles, the 10 lawmakers argue that demand for hospitals and healthcare organizations exceeded capacity even before the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in lower quality of care, longer waiting times and higher prices. Hospital closures, service reductions, mergers and acquisitions are now adding to the "worrying signs of distress," the lawmakers wrote to HHS.

"Despite health care systems operating over capacity and receiving substantial financial support from federal, state and local government in recent years, hospitals across the country are closing their doors, reducing their services, or consolidating," the letter states. "We are concerned that this pattern will result in communities facing increasingly significant barriers to healthcare, and seek your assistance in ensuring those communities have sufficient hospital resources to guarantee access to a full continuum of high-quality care."

They requested answers from the agency to seven questions by Jan. 15 to "better understand whether, and if so how, federal government action or inaction has impacted hospital closures and service reductions": 

1. What data does HHS gather on hospital closures, service reductions, or mergers or acquisitions due to financial distress?
2. What data does HHS gather on spillover effects on surrounding healthcare facilities after hospital closures?
3. What actions is HHS taking to identify the effects of hospital closures or service reductions on public health and health care access?
4. What actions is HHS taking to ensure accessibility for communities that rely on safety-net hospitals?
5. What engagement has HHS had with stakeholders at the local, state and federal levels to address concerns with hospital closures and service reductions?
6. What support does HHS provide to hospitals to adopt models of care to mitigate or avoid financial distress?
7. What support does HHS provide to health care systems to ensure long-term financial sustainability and surge capacity?

Massachusetts' Sen. Edward J. Markey initiated the communication to HHS. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Reps. James P. McGovern, Lori Trahan, Jake Auchincloss, Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Stephen F. Lynch and Bill Keating signed the letter. 

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