Monday, November 28, 2011

Enabling Better Rural Healthcare

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on November 18th announced grant awards to establish telemedicine and other rural healthcare projects in the Delta region. The grants will fund ten projects in six states to deliver health services to areas currently lacking adequate care and deliver services to 25 persistent poverty counties.

Some of the grants are going to:

• Delta Health Alliance Inc ($699,142) will finance the Delta Electronic Intensive Care Unit network to link five hospitals in the most rural and impoverished counties in the Mississippi Delta

• The Tombigee Health Care Authority ($384,742) to finance “Healthcare on Wheels” a totally independent unit to provide healthcare services, education, telemedicine, and outreach linkage to community resources

• Murray State University ($233,366) to finance the East Kentucky TeleCare Project by providing equipment and resources for telehealth infrastructure for five rural critical access hospitals, two small hospitals, and one acute care hospital in the Delta Region of western Kentucky. The project will link eight hospitals into the Kentucky Telehealth Network

• Building Healthy Communities, Inc. ($364,443) will finance the Louisiana Nursing Home Telehealth Project to provide healthcare consultations to five rural nursing homes in the Louisiana Delta,

• Ochsner Clinic Foundation ($270,254) will finance the Acute Stroke System for Emergent Regional Telemedicine to connect eight rural hospitals in Central Louisiana

Other funding for projects includes $519,924 for Connect SI Foundation Inc., City of Mound Bayou for $2,993,954, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for $162,002, Arkansas State University for $384,742, and Franklin Parish Hospital, Service District No. 1 for $62,870.

In other news related to helping Rural Health Clinics (RHC), Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) introduced HR 3458 to enable RHCs to become eligible for electronic health record incentive payments through the Medicare program.

Due to the unique reimbursement structure of RHCs, their healthcare providers are not eligible for EHR incentive payments through CMS. “RHCs should not be discriminated against simply because they bill Medicare differently than hospitals or other healthcare practitioners who practice in rural areas” according to Congressman Schock. He represents 20 counties in Illinois and several of these counties include health clinics that are being penalized by this accounting error. “This is a flaw in the system that needs to be fixed,” said Schock.