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Rural healthcare is such an entity unto itself that Utah is in the midst of celebrating an official Rural Health Week right now, with the stated purpose of drawing attention to efforts to improve the care available to residents who live in less-traveled parts of the state. Coinciding with that, the American Hospital Association (AHA) is investigating what role urgent care can play in filling “access gaps” in medically underserved regions. AHA’s Task Force on Ensuring Access in Vulnerable Communities has proposed policy solutions for strengthening urgent care center usage and deployment. One proposal has Congress underwriting a program to reduce reimbursement issues urgent care centers currently face. In a statement, AHA says “federal reimbursement methodologies may not be sufficient to account for the low volume or other challenges [urgent care centers] in vulnerable rural and urban communities…face.” It goes as far as to quote calculations from the Urgent Care Association of America “that the break-even point for an urgent care clinic is approximately 25 visits per day.” If picked up, a related demonstration program would enable various payment models to be tested—among them new Medicare Physician Fee Schedule rates, an additional facility payment to cover standby costs, and a new fee schedule specifically for urgent care centers, to name a few.

Attention Turns to Improving Rural Healthcare—and How Urgent Care Can Contribute