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Are rural referral centers as costly as urban hospitals?

This article evaluates the claim that rural referral centers (RRCs), identified by HCFA criteria for special treatment under Medicare's prospective payment system, have average costs similar to urban hospitals. Multivariate analysis led us to conclude that RRC Medicare costs were 13 percent higher than those of other rural hospitals in 1984, holding constant Medicare case mix, teaching activity, and relative wages. However, RRCs were 9 percent ($200) less costly per case than urban hospitals. Outliers explained most of the cost difference between RRCs and urban hospitals, while transfers were more important in explaining differences between RRCs and other rural hospitals. Given that bed size alone explained all of the RRC-other rural cost difference, paying RRCs the urban rate results in an indirect way of paying them based on bed size. It also gives them an average excess of payment over Medicare cost well above the national rural and urban average


Hendricks, A., & Cromwell, J. (1989). Are rural referral centers as costly as urban hospitals? Health Services Research, 24(3), 289-309.