COLUMN: Supporting Healthcare Solutions for Rural America

September 16, 2019
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Across the country, we have seen communities and patients struggle to access and afford healthcare. In rural areas, this struggle is intensified by longer distances and the remote nature of our communities. Living in rural America, we recognize emergency services aren’t always just a phone call away. Many of us travel many miles between our homes and the medical facilities that provide primary and long-term care – not to mention specialized treatments, which are often provided across the mountains in Seattle.

For example, I’ve heard stories of mothers having to drive over an hour, in labor, to deliver their babies. Many mothers are required to travel over 80 miles for prenatal appointments because there is no closer option. While urban populations may write this off as “inconvenience,” in rural areas, we understand that one bad snow storm could change the course of a mother’s birth plan. In rural, low-income areas, these “inconveniences” can be deadly.

That is why I introduced the Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services Act with my colleague Rep. Xochitl Torres Small from New Mexico. The Rural MOMS Act creates rural obstetric networks to help providers collaborate and provide community-based services to pregnant women. It also expands telehealth programs for rural hospitals and clinics and creates new training for health professionals like nurses and midwives to better care for their patients who may not always be able to make it in to the healthcare facility.  

Increasing access for new and expecting mothers is just one key piece of the puzzle that Congress must address in order to improve healthcare in rural America. As we continue to debate ways to effectively lower the costs of healthcare and prescription drugs, I am working with my colleagues to support the successful programs we currently have in place.

Community health centers are vital for rural healthcare access. These federally-funded clinics often act as a “one stop shop” for patients who are medically-underserved. In Central Washington, nearly 300,000 people depend on Community Health Centers for critical health services, from annual physicals and preventative exams to behavioral health and dentistry. While many of us recognize the value of these Centers, they require authorization from Congress.

I am a cosponsor of the Community Health Investment, Modernization, and Excellence Act, which would reauthorize and extend funding for the Community Health Center Fund until 2024. We must pass this bill in order to provide much-deserved certainty for these Centers, the health professionals who dedicate their time and service, and the patients who need them most.

I also recently sent a letter to the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee to urge action on the reauthorization of the Teaching Health Center program in order to address the acute provider shortage our rural communities are facing. While young medical students are typically drawn to the fast-paced, high-risk populations that we find in urban areas and large cities, we realize it takes a special kind of healthcare provider to serve patients in rural areas.

Community Health Centers have found that when students get experience in these rural clinics and hospitals, they develop a sense of belonging and are more likely to stay. There are currently three Teaching Health Centers in the 4th Congressional District, and Congress must support them as they continue to train the next generation of physicians.

As we continue to work to improve and increase access to care across the United States, I will continue to advocate for the patients and healthcare providers of Central Washington.