For Rural Hospitals, Proposed State Budget Cuts Add To Obamacare Repeal Worries

Rural Colorado could see a wave of hospital closings if hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts in the proposed state budget go through.

Voter-imposed tax limits have prompted state lawmakers to propose a budget that chops off $264 million in money that goes to hospitals.

The budget cuts could affect hospitals across the board, the Colorado Hospital Association says. But for at least eight rural hospitals already in critical financial condition, this could tip them even more over the edge.

"The $264 million cut is not an option for the healthcare system. It will not look the same if this goes through, even for one year,” said Chris Tholen, the association's chief financial officer.

In the final analysis the impact could be closer to $500 million because the state would also lose out on matching funds from the federal government.

Hospitals are urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would reclassify a key fee on hospitals and would help resolve the state’s budget crisis.

The stress on rural hospitals is also playing out in the Republican push in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care act -- Obamacare -- and the Medicaid expansion that came with it.

Medicaid expansion helped many rural and safety net hospitals because more people have insurance. Before the Affordable Care Act, care for those patients was uncompensated.

The number of patients insured by Medicaid rose 44 percent in rural Colorado, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, according to the Colorado Rural Health Center.