Essential hospitals fill a safety net role and share a mission to care for all people, including the uninsured, low-income patients, and other marginalized groups. They are providers of choice for people who face social and financial barriers to care and for communities with significant health care needs and access challenges.
Essential hospitals provide more than five times as much uncompensated care as other hospitals and about three-quarters of their patients are uninsured or covered by Medicaid or Medicare. Essential hospitals’ smaller share of commercially insured patients and historically underfunded mission jeopardize their ability to maintain and expand vital services.
This proposal would codify essential hospitals in statute, allowing lawmakers to better target support to improve access to care and public health. Such a designation is needed, as no statutory definition exists for hospitals that fill the vital community role or offer the breadth of services that characterize essential hospitals, including:
- Specialized, lifesaving services, such as level I trauma and neonatal intensive care, emergency psychiatric services, and burn treatment.
- Health care professionals training to meet community demand for physicians, nurses, and other caregivers.
- Comprehensive, coordinated care across large ambulatory networks.
- A public health role to improve population health and prepare for and respond to natural disasters and other crises.
- Health equity leadership to meet the needs and challenges of patients who face systemic and structural barriers to care.
Lawmakers could use an essential hospital designation to target public policy initiatives and funding in several ways, including but not limited to, public health, targeted funding, and health equity.