LINTON, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) The next legislative session at the Indiana Statehouse could be a crucial one for rural hospitals like Greene County General. In fact, the Indiana Hospital Association says they fear what may happen if lawmakers don’t act.

“I think healthcare is the most vulnerable it’s ever been,” Brenda Reetz, CEO of Greene County General Hospital, said. “It’s at a really crucial point right now.”

Reetz said her hospital is facing a crippling combination of rising costs and lower reimbursements.

“The Medicaid rates in Indiana have not been adjusted in almost 30 years,” she added. “So, if you’re taking the prices 30 years ago, compared to the prices today, it does not match. With growing inflation, everything costs more, especially staff. We’re heading into a very unsustainable situation if things don’t start balancing out.”

Brian Tabor is with the Indiana Hospital Association. He says “many of the patients, the vast majority of patients, are covered by government programs. That can be Medicare, Medicaid. For some of our rural hospitals, that means, the number of patients on any given day, 75%-80% are covered by these government programs.”

The problem? According to Tabor, Medicare reimburses rural hospitals for $.87 cents for every dollar of cost. In Indiana – Medicaid pays even less; about $.57 cents for every dollar.

“That adds up,” Tabor explained. “That makes it very difficult for a lot of our rural hospitals to operate when those government payments fall so far below the costs of delivering services.”

Officials believe lawmakers hold the key to survival

To get those rates increased, state and federal lawmakers will need to intervene.

During a recent visit to GCGH, asked Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch if state lawmakers have done enough to address the growing crisis. She says “while the General Assembly focused on hospitals this past legislative session, hospitals alone aren’t responsible for the rising health care costs. So, we, as a state, need to take a holistic look at the problem and find a solution where everyone has a little give and take that results in quality health care but affordability for Hoosiers.”

The Lt. Governor, who is also running for governor in 2024, said lawmakers have more work to do to bring down those high costs of care.

Tabor admitted raising reimbursement rates won’t solve everything, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Rural hospitals face critical condition if lawmakers don’t act

At Greene County General, Reetz says, if lawmakers don’t act, the consequences could have a major impact on this small community.

“We’ve seen some of it in our state, of rural hospitals closing or reducing services significantly and, I think, it’s going to reach that point where we have to choose service lines and which ones can stay open and which ones can’t stay open,” Reetz said. “Those are the hard decisions that are going to have to be made and we’ve seen it happen in other communities. I pray we don’t have to do that in this community. I really think that we need everything we got, if not more.”

If GCGH were forced to close down the road, hospital officials fear the consequences would be dire.

“There are people in this community today that are alive because we are here,” Reetz said. “If this hospital were not here and we weren’t as close to their home as we are, I don’t think they’d be here today.”

The Indiana Hospital Association says it’s going to take state lawmakers and federal lawmakers as well, to make this work and to save rural hospitals. If not, some may have to cut services, or worse, close all together.