Friday, September 2, 2011

Administrative Problems Cut Rural Health Care Funding

In June the President created a Rural Task Force which includes a long list of federal departments and offices. Last month they were on the road listening to citizen concerns. Kathleen Seblius at HHS is to be commended for making sure that some of our country's brightest health care leaders at HHS have a real understanding of the challenges rural communities face in creating and sustaining healthy communities. Some of those leaders include Mary Wakefield (North Dakota) at HRSA from  Marcia Brand (West Virginia) at the Bureau of Health Professions, and Tom Morris (North Carolina) at the Office of Rural Health Policy.

All of these agencies understand and advocate for rural physicians who are frequently on the short end of re-reimbursement, treat higher numbers of Medicare and Medicaid patients, and must compete for staff  against the higher salaries available in larger cities. Rural doctors don't get a discount on all the equipment they need just because they are in a smaller demographic. Just as their patients want the best care possible, doctors want to deliver it and they need the technology and equipment to do that.

When Congress returns it is imperative that it address the complete omission of  rural clinics in  federal quality improvement efforts and funding. The National Rural Health Association alerted members that it would be working with partners to lobby Congress to correct an administrative problem that resulted in the lack of any funding for improving the health of rural American through these programs. The money is already budgeted but due to a data collection omission at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, reports filed by rural physicians were not included.

I've heard people, including state and federal elected officials, downplay the importance of high quality health care in rural communities (it is stunning). Some of them had said they don't ever visit rural communities and just don't know much about them.(we make sure they know the welcome mat is always out). But when they go to the beach, the mountains, or visit friends and family out of town, most likely their trip takes them through a rural community. An accident, heart attack, stroke, or sudden illness isn't the time to wish there was good quality health care just down the road.

Congress needs to fix this administrative issue so rural gets the funding  that is already budgeted. We want and deserve our fair share. The White House and Congress need a fuller understanding of what makes the success and sustainability of rural America critical for solving the problems our country faces. Health care is an important one.  


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