The National Rural Health Association applauds the Senate Appropriations Committee for recognizing the importance of a strong investment in rural health delivery for fiscal year 2017.
NRHA thanks Chairman Cochran, Vice Chairwoman Mikulski, and the Committee members for the increase of funding for the Rural Outreach and Network Grants and Telehealth, both important programs for rural America. NRHA also applauds the Committee for the strong funding for the Rural Hospital Flexibility Grants which are used by each state to implement new technologies, strategies and plans in Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs). CAHs provide essential services to a community and their continued viability is critical for access to care and the health of the rural economy.
NRHA also thanks the Committee for recognizing the importance of Graduate Medical Education (GME), and its concern that the current funding for GME does not adequately address the needs of rural communities and the changing demands on the health care system. NRHA applauds the Committee for directing CMS to submit a report to Congress on what steps can be taken to address physician shortages.
Rural health programs assist rural communities in maintaining and building a strong health care delivery system into the future. Most importantly, these programs help increase the capacity of the rural health care delivery system and true safety net providers.
Programs in the rural health safety net increase access to health care, help communities create new health programs for those in need and train the future health professionals that will care for the 62 million rural Americans. With modest investments, these programs evaluate, study and implement quality improvement programs and health information technology systems.
Funding for the rural health safety net is more important than ever as rural Americans are facing a hospital closure crisis. Since 2010, 75 rural hospitals have closed, 10,000 rural jobs have been lost and 1.2 million rural patients have lost access to their nearest hospital. The most recent hospital closed in Georgia on Monday. Even more concerning is that 673 rural hospitals are at risk of closure, meaning sustained Medicare cuts threaten the financial viability of 1 in 3 rural hospitals. The loss of these hospitals would mean 11.7 million patients would lose access to care in their community.
NRHA asks Congress to support strong funding for these important rural health programs.