Critical Access Hospital (CAH)

What is a critical access hospital (CAH)?

A critical access hospital (CAH) is a medical center that provides healthcare services to rural, often underserved communities. The population density is lower in these areas, correlating with a higher number of underinsured or uninsured individuals and older adults. There are about 1,353 CAHs in the U.S.   

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) describes CAHs as having: 

  • An average stay of no more than 96 hours  

  • 24-hour emergency department services  

  • Less than 25 acute care inpatient beds 

  • A location over 35 miles from the closest hospital (or 15 miles by secondary roads or mountains)  

Qualifying CAHs may participate in the 340B drug pricing program.  

Why are critical access hospitals (CAHs) important to healthcare?

Critical access hospitals are important because they offer more affordable, accessible healthcare to individuals living in rural areas. Less expensive and more convenient care is crucial, as individuals living in rural areas are more likely to face poverty and are more susceptible to preventable illnesses such as depression and diabetes.  

CAHs can also access technical help, educational resources and grants and collect reimbursement from Medicare. CAHs also have more staffing flexibility than other acute care hospitals due to the Medicare Conditions of Participation (CoP).