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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing on Rural Health

    Len Marquez, Senior Director, Government Relations

    The Senate Finance Committee May 24 held a hearing titled “Rural Health Care in America: Challenges and Opportunities.” It largely focused on issues of access, how to incent healthcare providers to remain and practice in rural areas, and rural hospital closures.

    Witnesses at the hearing included Karen M. Murphy, PhD, RN, Executive Vice President, Chief Innovation Officer, and Founding Director of Glenn Steele Institute of Health Innovation at Geisinger; Susan K. Thompson, MS, BSN, RN, Senior Vice President of Integration and Optimization, CEO, UnityPoint Accountable Care at UnityPoint Health; Konnie Martin, Chief Executive Officer at San Luis Valley Health, Alamosa, Colo.; Keith J. Mueller, PhD, Interim Dean, College of Public Health, Gerhard Hartman Professor in Health Management and Policy Director, RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis, Chair RUPRI Health Panel at the University of Iowa; and George H. Pink, PhD, Humana Distinguished Professor, Deputy Director, NC Rural Health Research Program, Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    In his opening statement, Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) emphasized the need for flexibility when considering approaches to solving problems facing rural health care providers. He stated, “Clearly, for some communities, Medicare’s special rural payment structures may stifle innovations that could pave the way for more sustainable rural healthcare delivery systems…They want the flexibility to design innovative ideas that are tailored to meet the specific needs of the communities they serve.”

    Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) focused his opening remarks on the issue of rural hospital closures, “…[P]eople in rural areas today feel like their local hospitals are already teetering on the brink of closing their doors…Offering a variety of inpatient services and keeping that emergency room open is enormously expensive, and at the same time, more and more Americans are turning to outpatient settings for chronic care, rehab and routine surgeries. Since 2010, 83 rural hospitals have closed services, and hundreds more are in dire straits.”

    Other Congressional committees also have examined the challenges facing rural healthcare, including an April 13 hearing held by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies [see Washington Highlights, April 13].