GrayTV: Bipartisan effort reignited to expand medical access to rural communities

Eligible clinicians could receive as much as $200,000 for committing to work in a rural area for five years.

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - According to a recent study, nearly 30 percent of rural hospitals are in danger of closing. Now a bipartisan group of lawmakers want to do something to tackle the issue.


Carrie Cochran-McClain, chief policy officer with the National Rural Health Association, said rural America has longstanding challenges with access to health care providers and the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse.


“Coming out of the pandemic, we really need to make sure that we have a robust rural health workforce in our rural health care facilities,” said Cochran-McClain.


A January report from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform shows more than 200 hospitals are at “immediate risk” of closing. They were losing money before the pandemic and don’t have the reserves to cover their losses to keep their operations going.


Cochran-McClain said, “And that has impact not only on the individuals living in rural, but the facilities, the hospitals, the clinics, other’s ability to provide needed health care services.”


Cochran-McClain said medical school graduates want to work in rural areas but cannot afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt from medical school and not be paid as much as medical professionals do in cities and suburbs. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers recently re-introduced the Rural American Health Corps Act.


“We’re told that in Alaska, some 6300 job openings, placements are available throughout the state in the health care field. As I talk to people around Alaska, I know that that number is real and perhaps even a bigger gap than that,” said Murkowski.


The bill creates a loan repayment program in which eligible clinicians can receive as much as $200,000 for committing to work in a rural area for five years. However, Adam Kissel with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, says more federal money is not the answer.


“Well, it’s disappointing that college and university and professional school tuition is so high. And that’s because of the easy money that the federal government gives. And it causes about 65% of every new dollar in subsidized aid to be taken by the universities and the grad schools without providing any extra benefits,” said Kissel.


When asked what kind of care people in rural areas could access if the market dictated hospitals close near them, Kissel said, “It’s unlikely that so many of these hospitals and medical centers would actually close. But I think we’re going to see again, if the demand goes up, the prices go up, and more people go to those places. So supply and demand solves a lot of problems. Market failure is often a myth.”


This is the third time the bill has been introduced. Senator Murkowski said she spoke with the chair and ranking member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee who want to pass the bill by the end of the year.

By:  Josh Rultenberg
Source: Gray TV