Yesterday, the Senate passed The Health Care Safety Net Act, legislation co-sponsored by Oregon Senators Gordon H. Smith and Ron Wyden to reauthorize and provide increased funding for rural health care programs, Community Health Centers (CHCs) and the National Health Service Corps. These programs help increase the number of health care providers treating individuals living in underserved and rural communities. Smith and Wyden, champions of the bill, also fought to include their legislation to protect Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) from closure due to the Administration's proposed rule change.
Smith and Wyden's legislation (S.3367) reduces the impact of a new rule proposed in June by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that would require states to update their RHC's designation every three years instead of four. The Senators' legislation will prevent a gap in the certification requirement from taking effect, which will effectively stave off the closure of thousands of clinics nationwide.
"Passage of the Health Care Safety Net Act is a critical step forward in ensuring rural communities in Oregon and across the nation have access to health care," said Smith. "America's families depend on local clinics for their primary health care needs and often don't have anywhere else to turn. Rural Health Clinics struggle each day with rising health care costs and low federal reimbursements. Our legislation helps ensure that these clinics will remain open to meet the health care needs of the millions of patients they serve each year."
"During this period of economic uncertainty, the Federal government's job is to support our rural communities, not undercut their access to essential services like health care. The Administration's rule would have effectively choked off access to health care in many rural areas," said Wyden. "With our rural health provision, Congress will ensure that Medicare will maintain access to health care services through the rural health clinic program."
Smith and Wyden have championed efforts in Congress to safeguard rural health clinics, which are so vital to Oregon's rural communities, and prevent CMS's new rule from harming these local health clinics. In July, Smith and Wyden, joined by many of their Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle, wrote a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), raising concerns about the effect of the proposed change on access to care in underserved communities and asking him to extend the proposed rule comment period.
In a follow-up letter this week, the Senators again wrote the HHS Secretary, asking him to delay finalization of the proposed change until Congress has more time to study the impact of the proposed rule on rural health care clinics.