Essential hospitals’ commitment to caring for all people, including underrepresented populations, make them providers of choice for underserved communities that face significant health care needs and access challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated disparities that persist in populations essential hospitals serve. Essential workers and racial and ethnic minorities have suffered COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths at disproportionately high rates. These populations turn to essential hospitals in times of need.
Even in better times, essential hospitals rely heavily on a patchwork of federal financial support and resources to sustain the health care safety net and meet their mission. The indispensable nature of this support has come into sharper focus as COVID-19 places heavy financial pressure on essential hospitals’ already razor-thin margins.
Policymakers must begin thinking of these programs as a woven collective that forms the fabric of the health care safety net. Ensuring a reliable safety net, one that is ready to meet the moment in any crisis, means robustly protecting and bolstering the mechanisms and ideals that make the safety net function. To do so, Congress must protect the individual components that form the fabric of the health care safety net by:
- recognizing in policy the impact of structural racism on health outcomes;
- addressing social determinants of health;
- ending maternal health disparities;
- providing opportunities for capital investment;
- strengthening the health care workforce; and
- supporting telehealth expansion and utilization.