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Congressional Proposal Would Reward Clinicians Who Practice in Rural Areas

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

A bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers have introduced a proposal that could entice more healthcare professionals to practice in rural areas.

The Rural America Health Corps Act would establish a sliding scale debt repayment program for physicians, nurses, and many others whereby the degree of debt relief for providers would be based on the severity of the workforce shortage in the area in which these providers choose to practice. Through the Rural Provider Loan Repayment Demonstration program, clinicians would agree to serve full time for five years in a “health professional shortage area” that also is rural or partially rural.

"Patients across rural Illinois face challenges accessing the healthcare they need because of serious workforce shortages, with too few medical providers and long distances between them,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, a cosponsor. “Our bipartisan bill provides new funding and support for rural communities by expanding loan forgiveness programs so we can attract and retain more doctors, nurses, physician assistants, dentists, and behavioral health specialists.”

In a letter of support, the American Hospital Association believes this “well-designed” legislation could alleviate persistent staffing shortages in rural areas.

“Many providers are retiring or leaving the field, and young people are often held back from entering because they can’t afford training” said U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-MN, another cosponsor. “We need solutions to address these healthcare workforce shortages, and that’s exactly what this bipartisan bill aims to do."

Meanwhile, Congress also is considering similar legislation, the Rural Health Innovation Act. This proposal is aimed toward communities with citizens living at least 30 minutes from an emergency department and rural areas that have seen a medical facility shutter in the last seven years.

This act would create two five-year grant programs. One would establish Federally Qualified Health Centers or Rural Health Clinics that can provide triage and urgent care services. The other grant would help existing rural health departments expand to offer more emergency services.

“The Rural Health Innovation Act enables critical transformation in rural America to expand provision of emergency health services vital to rural communities,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. “This program will help rural providers purchase equipment and pay essential staff to enhance health outcomes in rural areas throughout the country.”

For more on this and other closely related subjects, be sure to read the latest issues of Contraceptive Technology Update, ED Management, Hospital Case Management, and Medical Ethics Advisor.