June 25, 2009

Wyden, Barrasso Legislation Will Improve Access to Rural Health Clinics

Bill Increases Medicare Payments for RHCs, Provides Incentives to Attract Medical Professionals to Rural Areas

Washington, D.C. - Ensuring that Americans in rural areas have access to quality health care, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have introduced the Rural Health Clinic Patient Access and Improvement Act of 2009, which addresses long standing underpayments to rural health clinics, introduces a quality improvement program to RHCs, and provides incentives to recruit and retain medical professionals to rural areas.

"Oregonians in rural areas have the same right to quality, affordable medical care as those living in large urban areas," Wyden said. "As Congress considers health reform, I will do everything I can to make sure the needs of rural Oregon are met. This bill strengthens rural health clinics, improving access to health care and helping to attract well-qualified medical professionals."

"There is a lot of talk in Washington about solutions to improve the nation's health care system," Barrasso said. "In the midst of this debate, I will not stand for rural Americans being left behind. The people of Wyoming need access to high quality, affordable health care just like everybody else. That is why I introduced legislation strengthening the nation's 3500 Rural Health Clinics. There are 19 Rural Health Clinics serving patients all across the Cowboy State. We need more. Wyoming does not have enough primary care providers to serve folks at home."

The Rural Health Clinic Patient Access and Improvement Act will increase the all-inclusive Medicare payment rate for Rural Health Clinics by more than 20 percent per visit from an average of $76 to $92. Currently, rural health clinics are hamstrung by low reimbursement rates that pay them less than what it costs to deliver care. This legislation allows for better collaboration between community health centers and rural health clinics. It will also create a five-state demonstration project to determine whether medical professionals would be incentivized to practice in rural areas if RHCs subsidized a portion of their medical liability costs. These reforms will help ensure rural residents have access to the same level of quality care as those in other parts of the country.

Quick facts about Oregon's Rural Health Clinics:

· Oregon has 54 rural health clinics serving 26 out of its 36 counties.

· The rural health clinic program is designed to ensure that there is availability of primary care services for the underserved elder and low-income populations (Medicare and Medicaid clients).

· Ninety-eight percent of Oregon's Rural Health Clinics are willing to see Medicare and Medicaid patients as well as patients with no insurance. Not only are they willing to see these types of patients, but 96 percent are currently accepting new patients.

· Many of Oregon's RHCs, while small and remote, are on the cutting edge of technology and medical practices. In 2007, 36 percent of the RHCs had an electronic health record and another 23 percent planned to implement one in 2008.

· According to the Oregon State Office of Rural Health, a major obstacle facing Oregon's RHCs is the severe shortage of health care providers willing or able to work in a rural area. One out of three Oregon RHCs was recruiting in 2008.