A proposed rule for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services could give rural hospitals in Arkansas more than $12 million in reimbursement to improve wages for health-care workers.

The Arkansas congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, along with U.S. Reps. Steve Womack, Bruce Westerman, Rick Crawford and French Hill — signaled their support this week for the rule: "Fiscal Year 2020 Medicare Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System and Long-Term Acute Care Hopsital Prospective Payment System Proposed Rule and Request for Information."

In a letter written to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, the delegation emphasized how the proposal would address a disadvantage faced by rural hospitals by increasing payments to those below the 25th percentile on the wage index, a news release from Womack's office states.

Currently, rural hospitals are on the receiving end of some of the lowest reimbursement rates in the country because of structural inequalities built into Medicare’s reimbursement formula, the release notes. 

“Hospitals in rural states have long been disadvantaged by the Medicare Area Wage Index,” the lawmakers wrote. “We commend CMS for recognizing the disadvantages of rural hospitals, and we appreciate the agency’s proposal to provide needed relief to low-wage areas, while not increasing Medicare spending.”

"Rural hospitals are essential contributors to their communities, but they are also especially vulnerable, the letter says. In 2017, more than one-third of Arkansas hospitals had a negative total margin. The proposed rule would provide an estimated $12.3 million increase in total statewide reimbursement. This, the delegation notes, would allow hospital staff wages to rise to more competitive levels and increase resources available to invest in infrastructure and equipment.

The proposed rule is also supported by the Arkansas Hospital Association. The full text of the letter from the delegation to CMS Administrator Verma can be found at Womack's website.