Rural hospitals are a lifeline for 46 million Americans, yet an increasing number of them are closing, a situation that has prompted the federal government to initiate a new program that will offer a huge infusion of cash to more than 1,700 of them, but comes with the condition that they must end all inpatient care, "an excruciating choice," Emily Baumgaertner reports for The New York Times.

Any hospital that accepts this deal would become a "rural emergency hospital," allowing it to get monthly payments totaling more than $3 million a year and get higher Medicare reimbursements.  For many, that would be a game-changer "that would not only keep them open but allow them to expand services and staff," Baumgaertner writes, but "In return, they must commit to discharging or transferring their patients to bigger hospitals within 24 hours."

The rationale: "Many rural hospitals can no longer afford to offer inpatient care," she writes. "A rural closure is often preceded by a decline in volume, according to a congressional report, and empty beds can drain the hospital’s ability to provide outpatient services that the community needs."

Read the full article about rural hospitals by Melissa Patrick at The Rural Blog.