Sens. Smith, Jones, Rounds Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Rural Health Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. [05/22/18]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith joined Senators Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) to introduce bipartisan legislation—the Rural Health Liaison Act—to better coordinate rural health resources across the federal government and improve health care delivery for Minnesotans and people across the country living in rural areas.

The Rural Health Liaison Act would create a liaison within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) responsible for working with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other agencies on rural health issues.

You can learn more about the bill by clicking here.

“When I meet with farmers, and rural business and community leaders, the first issue that comes up is health care,” said Sen. Tina Smith, a member of the Senate Health and Agriculture Committees. “And I think the USDA and HHS, together, can do more to help rural communities take on health care challenges and make sure that every family can access the care they need. As a leader of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, I’m proud to support this bipartisan legislation and I’ll be pushing to get it added to the Farm Bill.”

“Like many states with large rural communities, Alabama faces unique challenges when it comes to providing access to health care for all of our residents,” said Senator Doug Jones, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “I’m proud that the first bill I’m introducing as a lead sponsor will help address an issue that affects so many people in my state and across rural America. By establishing a rural health liaison at USDA, we can better coordinate federal resources and expand health care access to Americans who have for too long struggled to receive quality, affordable care in their own communities.”

“Making sure all South Dakotans, including those in rural areas who live far away from a major hospital or clinic, have access to the same quality of care as those living in big cities is a priority of mine,” said Senator Mike Rounds. “Creating a position within USDA that is solely focused on improving health care in rural areas will help us address the unique health challenges facing our small, sparsely-populated communities. It will also help bridge gaps between USDA and other federal agencies like HHS.”  

This legislation is supported by the National Rural Health Association and the National Farmers Union:

“As the rural hospital closure crisis and the opioid epidemic escalate in rural America, we need to seek new ways to help struggling rural economies and increase opportunities for rural patients and providers,” said Alan Morgan, CEO, National Rural Health Association. “USDA has experience with working to keep struggling hospitals from closing and is the home to a number of programs critical in providing telehealth services and other rural health resources. Now more than ever, we need a Rural Health Liaison at the USDA to ensure better coordination and streamlining of rural health programs.”

“Farming and ranching families face unique barriers to accessing affordable, quality health care,” said Roger Johnson, President, National Farmers Union. “The Farm Bill is a key opportunity to address many of these challenges. A Rural Health Liaison would improve coordination between USDA and HHS to better leverage existing resources and develop targeted responses for the health care needs of family farmers, ranchers and their communities. Farmers Union applauds Sens. Jones, Rounds and Smith for their leadership in this arena and urge the provision’s inclusion in the next Farm Bill.”

Sen. Smith serves on the Senate Health and Agriculture Committees, and she and her office have been meeting with Minnesotans across the state to discuss both the upcoming Farm Bill and rural health care. Sen. Smith has heard over and over again about the need to improve health care in rural areas and the Rural Health Liaison Actwould help the USDA play a bigger role. The USDA liaison would:

Work with HHS on rural health issues and improve communication with federal agencies;
Share expertise on rural health care issues;
Lead and coordinate rural health activities within the USDA; and,
Advocate on behalf of rural health care and infrastructure needs.

You can learn more about the bill by clicking here.