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 seven times as much uncompensated care as other hospitals, and three-quarters of their patients are uninsured or covered by Medicaid or Medicare. Essential hospitals’ small share of commercially insured patients and historically underfunded mission jeopardize their ability to maintain and expand the vital services they provide.
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:
- providing specialized, lifesaving services, such as level I trauma and neonatal intensive care, emergency psychiatric services, and burn treatment;
- training health care professionals to meet community demand for physicians, nurses, and other caregivers;
- delivering comprehensive, coordinated care across large ambulatory networks;
- meeting public health needs by improving population health and preparing for and responding to natural disasters and other crises; and
- advancing health equity to meet the needs and challenges of patients who face the greatest disparities and barriers to receiving quality 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.