Sunday, March 3, 2013

Senators Introduce Bills

On February 14th, Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced the “Strengthening Rural Access to Emergency Services Act” (S.328) to amend the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). This legislation would allow eligible hospitals in rural and medically underserved areas to use interactive telehealth programs to satisfy the federal emergency room staffing requirement for an “on-call” physician when an associate provider, such as a physician assistant or nurse practitioner is already on site at the rural emergency room.

Currently, small rural hospitals across the country are facing physician recruiting challenges, partly due to federal requirements that do not reflect advancements in emergency telehealth technology that could be used to create a practice environment that would be more attractive to young physicians.

EMTALA requires a physician to be on call and able to arrive at the emergency department within 30 minutes, even if an associate provider such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant is already covering the emergency department.

For physicians in small hospitals who see patents all day and then must be on call at night, this creates a 24/7 work environment that is unattractive to many young physicians and unnecessarily drives up the costs of healthcare.

This bill is cosponsored by Senator Michael Bennet and supported by NRHA, ATA, the American college of Emergency Physicians, and the American Academy of Physician Assistants. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.

The Better Health in the Arctic Act (S.271) was recently introduced by Mark Begich (D-AK) to meet the needs of the people in the Northern region and to study the impact of climate change and the effect on health. Northern people have a shorter life expectancy and experience increased mortality related to suicide and injuries as compared to populations living in more moderate climates.

The bill would enable NIH to develop a national Arctic health science policy and establish a Desk for Arctic Health. A National Center of Environmental Health would support the development of Arctic health impact assessments. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.