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Words from Washington

Rural health coalition working to increase access to care

As a member of the bipartisan Rural Health Care Coalition, I work with my colleagues in Congress on ways to increase access to affordable, hometown health care in rural areas like Central Washington.

Most recently, we introduced a comprehensive bill to address the unique challenges facing health care providers in rural communities so that families have more choices and greater access to affordable health care. Here are some of the highlights of the bill:

• Provides health information technology grants that are increasingly important to rural doctors and enhance access to the latest scientific tools.

• Ensures critical access hospitals can continue caring for patients in rural areas through increased flexibility and payments. The 12 critical access hospitals in Central Washington are in Leavenworth, Ephrata, Grand Coulee, Ellensburg, Goldendale, Chelan, Pasco, Othello, Prosser, Quincy, White Salmon and Sunnyside.

• Ensures prompt prescription drug payments from Medicare to rural pharmacies.

• Improves rural health clinic reimbursements to more accurately reflect costs.

• Provides for more fair federal payments to many rural doctors, hospitals, ambulance services and home health care agencies. The existing Medicare and Medicaid programs do not pay rural health care providers enough to cover the cost of providing care - often forcing doctors to consider whether they can continue accepting patients and causing hospitals to cut back on services.

• Increases rural representation within the U.S. Department of Health so that rural America has a greater say in developing federal health care policies.

The Health Care Access and Rural Equity Act has been endorsed by several health care organizations, including the National Rural Health Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Ambulance Association and the National Association of Rural Health Clinics.

From traveling hours for specialized care, to shortages of doctors and nurses, to inadequate payments for hospitals and clinics - access to health care continues to be a challenge for many who live in many rural communities. This plan aims to assist rural doctors, nurses, hospitals, health clinics and pharmacies in their efforts to provide quality health care.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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