New hospitals join Pennsylvania’s Rural Health Model

Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announces the first rural hospitals to take part in the state’s Rural Health Model in March. PHOTO/ IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Eight more hospitals across the state will be joining a state initiative created to help rural hospitals receive the funding they need to stay open.

This March, the Pennsylvania Department of Health launched its Rural Health Model, a payment model that asks insurers to pay hospitals through fixed monthly payments instead of by patient.

Hospitals are commonly reimbursed by insurers through a fee-for-service model where the insurer pays the hospital each time a patient visits. For hospitals operating in rural populations with unpredictable admissions, the lack of funding during slow periods can end in closure.

In the program’s initial rollout, five insurance companies agreed to change their funding model for five Pennsylvania hospitals.

The department announced on Thursday that eight more hospitals have been approved for the program and Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna has agreed to join the program as its sixth insurer.

“The Rural Health Model is a transformative step that changes the financial model for hospitals in rural areas,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “This is a step that will help achieve financial stability for these facilities and aims to improve the overall health of the community.”

The newest hospitals joining the model include: Armstrong County Memorial Hospital in Armstrong County, Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber in Somerset County, Fulton County Medical Center in Fulton County, Greene hospital in Greene County, Punxsutawney Area hospital in Jefferson County, Tyrone Hospital in Blair County and Washington Hospital and Monongahela Valley Hospital in Washington County.

Insurers pay the hospitals based on how much they paid the hospitals when they were using the fee-for-service model. Aetna will be joining the program along with Gateway Health Plan, Geisinger Health Plan, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medicare and UPMC Health Plan.

The department plans to grow the model from 13 hospitals to 30 by 2021 with the ultimate goal of bringing all of Pennsylvania’s 67 rural hospitals under the model.