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House Rural Health Care Coalition Unveils Legislation to Improve Access to Quality Rural Health Care

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House Rural Health Care Coalition Unveils Legislation to Improve Access to Quality Rural Health Care
Over 60 Bipartisan Members Support Improvements to the Rural Health Care System

September 7, 2006 -
In an effort to further improve rural Americans' access to quality health care, Congressmen Greg Walden (R-OR) and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), co-chairs of the House Rural Health Care Coalition, introduced H.R. 6030, the Health Care Access and Rural Equity Act (H-CARE) on Wednesday, September 6, 2006.

The bipartisan legislation, which was introduced with 60 co-sponsors, is a comprehensive bill that makes several improvements to our nation's health care infrastructure to help rural health care providers address the unique challenges associated with delivering quality health care close to home. The bill would do the following:

* Authorize health information technology grants for rural practitioners.
* Require prompt payment to rural pharmacies by Medicare prescription drug plans.
* Ensure adequate rural representation on the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
* Establish a Rural Heath Quality Advisory Commission.
* Establish a Rural Community Hospital Program.
* Raise Rural Health Clinic reimbursements to more appropriately cover costs.
* Extend several expiring Medicare adjustment payments for rural practitioners including physicians practicing in physician scarcity areas, rural ambulance providers, rural home health agencies and specific classes of rural hospitals.

"The H-CARE Act will provide people in rural communities the certainty of care when they're sick. Today, the health care safety net in small towns is about to rip apart and if it does people will have to travel even greater distances to get help, or be denied access to care altogether. We're not about to let that happen," said Walden, who before being elected to Congress served several years as a trustee of a non-profit hospital in his hometown of Hood River, Oregon.

"In a rural area, having access to quality health care is a matter of life and death," Pomeroy said. "When health facilities can't make ends meet, they close their doors. Not having local access to health care can mean a cancer patient has to travel miles and miles to get treatment and that seniors have to go longer between doctor's visits because they can't make the trip.

"We need better representation for rural citizens on the committee that recommends the payment schedules; instead of only one rural voice, we deserve four seats at the table. We need to ensure that the federal government is paying our caregivers a fair amount, so they can afford to continue to help people in rural and frontier communities. The H-CARE Act will help providers to take advantage of the latest health information technologies. It makes sure our local pharmacists get paid in a timely manner for helping seniors with their medications. And it expands access for mental health care in rural and remote areas," said Walden.

"The H-CARE Act helps to remedy problems in health care delivery that are unique to rural areas. When a community has one pharmacist, it is important that pharmacist is paid in full and on time because not having the money to cover expenses means closing your doors. Being able to get your prescriptions on Main Street is critical for rural residents. This bill makes necessary improvements so that rural Americans continue to have access to quality health care," added Pomeroy.

To date, twelve national organizations have endorsed the H-CARE Act including the American Hospital Association, National Rural Health Association, American Osteopathic Association, American Ambulance Association, National Association of Rural Health Care Clinics, National Association for Home Care and Hospice, College of American Pathologists, Rural Referral Center/Sole Community Hospital Coalition, Federation of American Hospitals, American Counseling Association, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, National Community Pharmacist Association and the Section 508 Hospital Coalition. Numerous state organizations are also supporting the bill.

"We know there isn't much time remaining in this session of Congress, but we're committed to doing all that we can to make sure these provisions are part of the legislation to prevent cuts in the physician payment schedule which Congress must act on before the end of the year," concluded Walden.

"Rural America has a strong voice in the Rural Health Care Coalition, and we intend to fight until these changes are made. Rural Americans are depending on it," Pomeroy summed up.

Congressman Greg Walden is in his fourth term representing Oregon's Second District; Congressman Earl Pomeroy is in his seventh term as the at-large representative for North Dakota. Both represent areas where residents are cared for through the rural health care system.

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