National Rural Hospital Flexibility Program Tracking Project
In 1997, the U.S. Congress created the Rural Hospital Flexibility Program (Flex Program) as part of the Balanced Budget Act (BBA). This highly visible and popular rural health program, authorized in the late summer of 1997, provides for cost-based reimbursement under Medicare to eligible small, relatively remote hospitals. A companion grant program supports state emergency medical services systems (EMS) and hospital participation in the program. The reimbursement component is the responsibility of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), while the grant program is the responsibility of the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP). Funding to support the monitoring efforts of the Flex Program Tracking Team is provided under the grant program appropriation. The Tracking Team is a consortium of six rural health research centers.
As a collaborative project, each Center has lead responsibility for several research components of the study. In 2002/2003, the WWAMI Rural Health Research Center is taking responsibility for assessing state program evaluations, evaluating a number of workforce issues faced by critical access hospitals (CAHs), and looking at the intersection of CAHs and another federal program, the Mississippi Delta Hospital Performance Improvement Initiative. WWAMI is also providing overall project direction and coordination to the participating centers.
There are five main national goals for implementation of the grant component of the Flex Program in the states and participating hospitals. These include:
- Preparing a state rural health plan.
- Converting eligible and willing hospitals to critical access hospital (CAH) status.
- Improving quality of care.
- Promoting networking among hospitals.
- Improving emergency medical services.
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