WASHINGTON D.C. [04/04/2019]— This week, U.S. Senator Tina Smith helped introduce a pair of bipartisan bills to expand investments in rural communities: one designed to help improve rural broadband, and one to improve rural health care.
Sen. Smith has been contacted by several Minnesota cooperatives—which are a vital part of the effort to build out rural broadband in the state—that are at risk of losing their tax-exempt status due to a mistake in the 2017 tax law. The mistake in the 2017 law put the tax-exempt status of co-ops at risk if they receive government grants to expand broadband or to recover from a natural disaster. The Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act, that she introduced with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) would fix that error that hinders rural broadband expansion. Their bill would ensure that co-ops can retain their tax exemptions in efforts to expand rural broadband or in providing relief from, or preparation for, a disaster or emergency.
Right now, there are 96 Rural Health Clinics in Minnesota and over 4,400 across the country, which help provide care to over 7 million people in 47 states. But these clinics are governed by a set of regulations that haven’t been updated in decades. Sens. Smith introduced the bill with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)—called the Rural Health Clinic Modernization Act—would modernize these decades-old rules that are preventing communities from getting the best possible care at Rural Health Clinics. For example, the legislation would expand the ability of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to provide care in these clinics, and improve the ability of clinics to offer telehealth services.
“At the end of the day, it’s my job to make sure that when Minnesotans tell me what Washington needs to do in order to better work for them, they know that I’m listening and working with fellow lawmakers to get things done on their behalf,” said Sen. Smith. “So when I heard from rural Minnesota cooperatives and health clinics about fixes that need to happen, I got to work. These bipartisan bills are good for people in rural Minnesota, rural Ohio, rural Wyoming—and rural communities across the country. Democrats and Republicans alike supporting efforts to allow rural broadband to keep expanding, and to make sure rural clinics stay open, shows what we can accomplish when we come together with commonsense fixes to make life better for Americans.”
The RURAL Act would revert the tax-exempt issue back to pre-2017 tax bill rules and address longstanding issues with the tax treatment of disaster relief grants, and the Rural Health Clinic Modernization Act would:
• Ease the physician shortage in rural areas by expanding the ability of physician assistants and nurse practitioners to provide care in Rural Health Clinics;
• Make sure Rural Health Clinics that are not connected to a hospital—as are many in Minnesota—can still use hospitals’ lab equipment because it’s often more cost-effective for these clinics to use the hospitals’ lab equipment;
• Increase the cap on the amount that Rural Health Clinics are able to bill Medicare for services; and
• Remove a restriction that prevents clinicians at Rural Health Clinics from providing services via telehealth.