Rural Health Clinics:

Rising Program Expenditures Not Focused on Improving Care in Isolated Areas

T-HEHS-97-65: Published: Feb 13, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 1997.

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Bernice Steinhardt
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Office of Public Affairs
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GAO discussed its recent report on the Rural Health Clinic (RHC) program, one of the few federal programs that addresses underservice in small communities that do not have a traditional health care system in place.

GAO noted that: (1) the RHC program needs to be refocused; (2) while some clinics clearly meet the program's initial focus of serving Medicare and Medicaid populations having difficulty obtaining primary care in isolated rural areas, most clinics are in fairly well-populated areas that already have extensive health care delivery systems in place; (3) controls over the amounts that these clinics receive from Medicare and Medicaid are weak or nonexistent, resulting in reimbursements that are in some cases over five times higher than those paid to other providers; (4) these financial benefits are provided indefinitely, even after an area may no longer be rural or uderserved; and (5) success in meeting the original purpose of RHCs requires more active management at the federal, state, and local levels to identify specific locations where clinics are needed and to determine when financial assistance can reasonably be discontinued.

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