New Study Looks at Rural Children’s Health Issues

First Focus released a new report today reviewing children’s health throughout the country, and specifically, the number of children covered by Medicaid or CHIP.  Using data compiled in every congressional district in the nation, the report “focuses on differences between rural and urban children in terms of recent trends in health insurance coverage and type of health insurance.” The report concludes that rural children are generally more reliant on CHIP than kids in urban areas.  This conclusion is of great concern to rural health advocates as CHIP authorization is set to expire in September 2015.

NRHA strongly supports CHIP re-authorization and will continue to advocate for its renewal.  Those interested in the report may access it at First Focus’s website.

Members of Congress head home for August recess

Members of Congress are back home for their five-week district work period. The National Rural Health Association encourages rural health leaders across the country to visit the district offices, attend town halls and invite members of Congress to tour rural facilities.

The rural health care safety net is in jeopardy.  More rural hospitals have closed in the last year than over the past decade and they are continuing to face more challenges with Medicare reductions, failure to expand state Medicaid, and regulatory changes imposed by CMS.

Rural hospitals are critical to rural American and provide great value to the rural patient, rural community and taxpayer. Urge your members of Congress to stand up for rural and protect the rural health safety net.

NRHA has outlined concerns with the Affordable Care Act, sequestration and the attacks on rural hospitals here.

VA bill passes Senate and House, heads to White House

On Thursday, the Senate approved 91-3 a compromise bill to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs. The House passed the bill Wednesday and it will now go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The legislation allows veterans who experience long wait times or live far from VA facilities to receive non-VA care. The bill also allows the VA to hire new doctors and nurses.

Continue monitoring NRHA’s blog for the latest VA news. For more information on the health needs of rural veterans, please view NRHA’s recent policy paper:  Rural Veterans: A Special Concern for Rural Health Advocates

Veterans’ Access Bill Falls Short for Rural Veterans

NRHA is disappointed that final language of the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act does not do more to improve access for rural veterans across the nation.

Our nation’s veterans are disproportionately from rural America. The legislation had an opportunity to remove significant barriers and allow rural veterans the choice to access quality health care close to their home, yet fell short.

A significant barrier for many rural veterans is that there will be no ability to choose a local rural provider, even if they live well over 40 miles from a Veterans Health Administration hospital. This is due to the inclusion of Community-based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) in the definition of VA medical facility within the Act. There are over 800 CBOCs scattered across the county. These outpatient-only facilities offer varying degrees of limited primary care during limited operating hours.  Including these facilities within the bill virtually negates the intent of providing rural veterans true choice in their health care.

NRHA is also disappointed that language was not included to ensure appropriate rural representation on the Commission on Access to Care established within the Act. Rural veterans, like rural Americans in general, are older, poorer and sicker than their urban counterparts and have unique challenges accessing care. Both workforce shortages and sheer geography make the health care delivery in rural areas extremely challenging. Like other health commissions currently charged with reporting to Congress, there should be proper rural representation on the Commission in addition to a representative from the VA Office of Rural Health.

For more information on the health needs of rural veterans, please view NRHA’s recent policy paper:  Rural Veterans: A Special Concern for Rural Health Advocates

CMS issued final rule to reform burdensome regulations for providers

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final rule to reform Medicare regulations identified as “unnecessary, obsolete, or excessively burdensome on health care providers and suppliers.” Revisions include eliminating the requirement that a physician must be onsite at a Critical Access Hospital (CAH), Rural Health Clinic (RHC) and a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) for at least once every two weeks. These facilities will still require a physician to be onsite for a sufficient amount of time, but it will depend on the needs of the facility and the patients.  The rule also provides revisions and clarifications for transplant centers, long-term care, clinical laboratories and Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs). Most of the changes will go into effect tomorrow, July 11.

NRHA applauds CMS for working to reduce burdens for rural providers and facilities.

Tell Congress to protect rural hospitals during this week’s recess

This week, Congress will be back in their districts for the Independence Day holiday to meet with constituents.  Contact your member of Congress today. Invite them to your facility, attend town halls and visit their district offices. Tell your Senators and Representatives to protect rural hospitals:

Rural Hospitals are important health care access points for rural patients across the country.

Rural Hospitals are critical to the rural economy.  Rural Hospitals are often the largest or second largest employer in a rural community. If a rural hospital closes, severe economic decline in the rural community is the result.  Soon after, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other health care providers in the community will be forced to leave.  Patients will have to travel farther distances for care or will delay receiving care, resulting in poorer health outcomes. Businesses, families, and retirees will not relocate to a rural area if quality health care is not available.

Investments in rural hospitals save tax payer dollars. Rural Hospitals provide cost-effective care.  In fact, in comparing identical Medicare services in a rural setting to an urban setting, the cost of care in a rural setting is on-average 3.7 % less expensive.

For additional information on the importance of rural hospitals, visit our Congressional Action Kit.


Senate passes bill allowing veterans to receive private care

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday allowing veterans to seek care from private providers if they experience long delays or live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic.

The bill also expands VA medical facilities across the country and calls for hiring more doctors and nurses to provide timely, quality care for veterans. Veterans experiencing long delays at the VA could access care at community health centers, Indian health centers, Department of Defense medical facilities or private doctors.

Rural veterans face significant challenges in accessing the health care services close to home. A disproportionate number of those serving in the military come from rural communities. Time, distance, and economic challenges prevent many rural veterans from receiving health care benefits through a VA facility. Preventative care and follow-up procedures are often impossible. Removing these barriers and allowing rural veterans to choose care close to home in their rural communities will expand veterans’ access to primary, emergency, and inpatient care for rural veterans throughout the nation.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee approves Labor-HHS spending bill

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS-Education) approved their fiscal year 2015 (FY15) spending bill. The FY 2015 appropriations bill provides $156,773,000,000 in base discretionary budget authority, the same level as FY 2014.

The bill includes an increase from FY 2014 spending for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Community Health Centers (CHCs). The committee recommends level funding for the Children’s Hospitals Graduate Medical Education (CHGME).

NRHA continues to advocate on behalf of all rural health programs including the Rural Hospital Flexibility Grants, Area Health Education Centers, Rural Training Tracks, State Offices of Rural Health, and others.  More information about the Subcommittee’s markup bill is here.

Burwell sworn in as HHS Secretary

Sylvia Mathews Burwell was sworn in as the 22nd Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) today. The Senate voted 78 to 17 to confirm Burwell as Secretary last week.

Burwell has served as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). She previously served as the president of the Walmart Foundation and president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The National Rural Health Association has requested a meeting with Secretary Burwell.