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Words from Washington

There are ways to improve access to quality health care

Ensuring that all Central Washington residents have access to affordable, quality health care is a top priority. Finding solutions to the unique challenges that come with providing health care in rural communities is a part of achieving that goal.

This month I authored and introduced a bill that would help improve air ambulance service - a key part of emergency health care in rural areas.

My bill would make it more affordable to purchase airplanes for emergency health care. This would enable Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS), a Washington based non-profit organization, to purchase and upgrade planes for emergency health care to better serve patients in every Central Washington county - and other parts of the region. Some of the hospitals regularly served by INHS include Central Washington Hospital, Chelan Community Hospital, Othello Community Hospital, Kadlec Medical Center, Kennewick General Hospital, Kittitas Hospital, Lourdes Medical Center, Samaritan Hospital, Yakima Regional Medical Center and Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

With existing aircraft based in Richland, Spokane and Odessa, INHS was able to provide 2,891 emergency medical flights in the Northwest last year - but there is a need to update the fleet by replacing aging planes.

My new proposal would amend the tax code to allow tax-exempt bond financing for airplanes that exclusively provide emergency medical services. While helicopters are currently allowed to be purchased using tax-exempt bonds, airplanes are far better suited for transporting critically ill patients across long distances and are more reliable in severe weather.

The current prohibition on using tax-exempt bonds to purchase airplanes was put in place to prevent the use of these bonds for frivolous purposes, such as corporate jets. Using tax-exempt bonds to purchase a corporate jet or an airplane for any purpose other than providing emergency health care would still be prohibited under my plan.

As a member of the bipartisan Rural Health Care Coalition, I work with my colleagues in Congress on many ways to increase access to hometown health care. Making sure patients get the life-saving care they need as quickly as possible is important to everyone - and enhancing air ambulance service is a way to do just that.

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

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