Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rural Health Issues Discussed

The rural health community from all over the U.S. gathered in Washington D.C. to attend the NRHA Rural Health Policy Institute Meeting held on January 25-28. The attendees listened to discussions on the latest rural health events now taking place in the new administration, and went to Capitol Hill to carry their message to Congress. Tim Fry, NRHA Government Affairs Manager, said “this is definitely the year for change since healthcare is one of the top priorities for the new administration.”

According to the leaders involved in rural healthcare, areas today are faced with more uninsured patients, less access to capital improvements, and a lack of investment. The rural system needs to invest in health information technology so that rural and underserved areas have access to broadband and wireless services. NHRA feels strongly that any economic package needs to provide help for critical access hospitals, rural health clinics, and community health centers.

Each year, the NRHA comes up with their Legislative and Regulatory Agenda to outline healthcare policy issues to let Congress, federal regulatory agencies, the White House, States, and the healthcare industry understand what is needed in rural and underserved communities.

The 2009 NRHA Legislative and Regulatory agenda states actions that NRHA wants to see happen to move rural healthcare forward:

  • Congress needs to require vendors of information systems used in rural communities to incorporate national standards for HIT into their systems. This includes systems used in all care settings so that interoperability is possible with both a larger network and within all rural facilities
  • Funding is needed for combination grants, loan guarantees, and/or principal interest forgivable loans, to support the expansion, upgrade, and renovation of rural health facilities including HIT and ambulance services
  • Reimbursement for services provided through telehealth need to be made based upon medical effectiveness and utilization and not based upon or limited to particular delivery platforms or location
  • In the future, the FCC pilot program should be developed to better utilize Universal Service funds to expand access to HIT and networks. The Universal Service program should expand the types of rural healthcare providers eligible to participate and needs to include rural home health care agencies, skilled nursing facilities, public health agencies, EMS, and other healthcare providers without regard to their tax status
  • The NRHA supports a Patient-Centered Health Home as described in the policy position “Patient-Centered Health Home published October 2008
  • Increase access points for rural veterans by using telehealth systems for access to sub- specialty care, particularly for mental health services. The NRHA supports the full funding of the Office of Rural Health in the VA
  • Federal programs and grantees should work together at the federal, state, and community levels to increase efficiency, minimize duplication of effort and services, and maximize the positive community impact of available resources
  • NRHA supports federal and state funding to address strengthening and integrating emergency medical services with rural healthcare services and providers
  • Federal funding should support innovative demonstrations, improved training, research, telehealth, preventive health, and personnel recruitment for rural and frontier areas

For more information, go to http://www.ruralhealthweb.org/.