September 19, 2012 | LXXII, No. 25

Protecting and Promoting Rural Communities

A few days ago, an inspiring and passionate nurse from Spokane, Washington, came all the way to Washington, DC to talk with me about the future of health care in America. As part of a group with the American College of Cardiology, DeAnna Jones struck me not only with her steadfast commitment to preserve Medicare, but with the compassion she has for her patients and her tireless work to make their lives better. She reminded me how hard nurses and doctors all across this country work every day to improve people’s lives. And as I’m reminded whenever I’m home in Eastern Washington, this is particularly true in rural areas.

Rural Washington — and rural America — face significant barriers to health care access. Very often they face unique financial, geographic and transportation obstacles - in addition to a longstanding inability to recruit and retain a strong medical force. While nearly 75 million Americans live in rural areas, only 10 percent of physicians practice there. In fact, there’s one county in Eastern Washington that doesn’t have a single primary care physician. ObamaCare exacerbates an already problematic situation by failing to acknowledge the disparity between urban and rural health care access. This needs to change and I am proud to stand on the floor of this Congress to do just that.

Originally from Kettle Falls, I know what it’s like to live in rural America. I understand what it’s like when those back at home tell me how far away they are from the nearest hospital, how limited their access to doctors is, and how long it takes for an ambulance to get to their loved ones in response to an emergency. I understand first-hand the challenges they face, and I’m here in Congress to do everything I can to change them.

That’s why I’ve introduced the Rural Hospital and Provider Equity (R-HOPE) Act - a bipartisan bill that will help rural communities protect and expand access to high-quality care. This bill would increase Medicaid and Medicare payments to rural hospitals - payments that would otherwise be phased out if ObamaCare were fully implemented - so that rural hospitals can survive. The bill increases payments to Rural Health Clinics so they can more appropriately cover costs. It improves access to critical access hospitals by improving ambulance reimbursements, and it increases access to home health. As Co-Chair of the Congressional Rural Health Coalition, I am committed to working across the aisle to make life for those in rural communities better.

The most effective way to make that happen is to ensure that ObamaCare is fully repealed. Not only have I voted - before and after the Supreme Court ruling - to repeal ObamaCare; I have worked hard in the Health Subcommittee to advance legislation for America’s patients and health care providers. Just this week, my National Pediatric Research Network Act passed the Subcommittee and will move to the full Energy and Commerce Committee next week. The bill would authorize the National Institutes of Health to establish up to 20 pediatric research consortia throughout the nation, some of which would focus on rare and genetic diseases. I’ve also advocated for the repeal of medical device taxes, FDA reform, doctor training, and funding for a medical school in Spokane. I am proud to say that all of these bills have garnered support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

While Congress can be extremely partisan at times, protecting and promoting access to quality health care trumps party politics. And that includes those in rural communities. Partisan bickering will do nothing to advance the cause of rural health care. I’m proud to represent rural America because their challenges were once my challenges. The disparities between urban and rural health care are significant, and the challenges rural communities face are real. But they are not insurmountable. DeAnna Jones reminded me of that just this week. She reminded me that our resolve is far greater than our challenge. And she reminded me of all the work health care providers do to improve lives, change lives, and save lives. Now it’s time to make sure those in rural America have access to them.

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