Good morning! It’s a pleasure to be here with you today to discuss one of the most important issues facing America’s rural community –access to affordable health care.
I’d like to begin by thanking the National Rural Health Association for its outstanding leadership and its commitment to advancing the dialogue on rural health issues.
I also want to thank my friend Nancy Vorhees, who is here today from from Spokane, Washington, in the district that I represent. I am so happy that you’re here.
And of course, I’d like to thank all of you – for all that you do- especially for taking the time to come to Washington, DC. It is so important for Members of Congress to hear from you about the issues facing your businesses and your communities.
The work we do in Washington cannot be done without your voice and without your leadership.
You see, I grew up in a rural community in Eastern Washington.
And, as you know, rural communities face very different challenges than urban communities – and all too often, their needs are vastly overlooked.
As the Co-Chair of the Congressional Rural Health Care Coalition, I can assure you that I’m committed to changing that.
Rural health initiatives have been and will continue to be a priority of mine in Congress. Back when I worked in the Washington State legislature, I worked to improve access to medical care through critical access hospitals. Years later, protecting critical access hospitals is still a priority of mine on a federal level.
In Congress, I want to use the Rural Health Coalition to educate members of Congress and their staff about the unique challenges to access to healthcare in rural communities.
The numbers speak for themselves. The physician to population ratio is stark: only approximately 10% of physicians practice in rural areas, even though almost one-quarter of the population lives there. And that’s only part of the story. Whether it’s an issue of physicians, ambulatory services, reimbursements, or hospital care, the fact remains: rural communities face a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to access to health care.
This is unacceptable.
The needs of rural residents are no less important than the needs of those living in urban communities.
When I look at my own district of Eastern Washington – comprising of many rural farm communities – I see thousands of residents who often struggle to access quality health care.
And I refuse to let this continue.
I am here today to tell you – to assure you – that addressing the needs of rural communities is one of my top priorities in Congress.
The first step in achieving better care for everyone is access.
I’ve co-sponsored a set of telehealth bills that will allow rural clinics to treat most conditions, from broken bones to pre-operation for specialized surgery. It also allows Medicare patients to reach a provider in a different city or state – all by utilizing technology.
By bringing in more doctors, whether it’s by phone or in person, we can improve the access as well as the care for patients.
In Washington State, there are 39 Critical Access Hospitals—12 of which are in my district. As such, I recognize the essential role that they play in caring for rural America and want to secure their future.
However, recently, Critical Access Hospitals have been put in the cross-hairs for payment cuts on many levels.
After years of interpreting the 96 hour rule as the average stay in a Critical Access Hospital for a year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has decided to clarify this rule. Under the new clarification, if one patient stays over 96 hours, the hospital will not be paid for that visit.
Previously, CMS would have paid for that stay if the average stay per patient was less than 96 hours. So hospitals are faced with the decision of discharging a patient at 96 hours or eating the bill.
I have heard from people in my district regarding this change. And I am currently working with Oregon Rep. Greg Walden to introduce a bill that will eliminate this 96 hour rule as a condition of payment, but not as a condition of participation.
And this legislation is just the beginning. I will do all that I can to continue addressing the challenges and supporting the needs of residents in rural communities.
While rural communities face unique challenges to health care access, I am optimistic that this WILL change.
And the reason this will change is because of all of you.
Thank you again for all of your hard work and your commitment to this very important cause. You are an integral part of this debate, and I am proud and honored to be part of it with you.
Thank you and God bless you!