Categorized | Health

Legislators seek to expand rural health care


The Hawaii Congressional delegation has announced legislation to address the issue of physician shortages in rural communities and on neighbor islands.

Last month, Sen. Brian Schatz and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard introduced Senate and House versions of the Rural Preventive Health Care Training Act (S. 726), and Sen. Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa are original co-sponsors of the legislation.

This legislation would fund preventative health care training for students capable of treating the 110,000 Hawaii residents who live in these areas.

“This legislation is critical to ensuring that everyone has access to affordable health care and preventive services regardless of where you live,” Schatz said. “While the Affordable Care Act is a big step towards solving our health care crisis, there are still communities in Hawaii and across the country that have difficulty finding the appropriate care for their families. We must provide the appropriate training to students and those that want to serve our community, and this legislation would do just that.”

“Access to quality care health care is a basic necessity, and one which oftentimes does not exist for those in our underserved rural communities. This bill takes steps to address this urgent problem,” Gabbard said. “On the island of Lanai, for example, there is no pediatrician. There is no dentist. In rural areas, medical emergencies have to be airlifted to Honolulu. Women may have to travel to and stay on another island before they give birth in order to ensure a safe delivery. This is unacceptable. People from every island deserve access to the highest quality of health care.”

“For too many families across our state, accessing affordable care and preventative services can be very difficult,” Hirono said. “According to the John A. Burns School of Medicine, Hawaii has about 600 fewer doctors than it needs and faces a critical shortage in health care professionals, especially on the neighbor islands. By encouraging programs that help train health care professionals in our own backyard, we can help tens of thousands of Hawaii residents get better access to preventative care and make our state healthier.”

“We sometimes overlook that there are two components to making health care available. We have made strides in making it more affordable, but we also need to ensure the availability of capable health care providers, which is a persistent problem in rural areas across the country. In Hawaii, where many areas retain their rural character, we encounter challenges across the state. This legislation will help ensure that trained health care providers, many of whom will be from the communities they serve, will be available to provide vital services. It is a responsible and effective approach to a serious problem,” Hanabusa said.

With 59.5 million Americans living in rural communities –close to 20 percent of the entire population – it is imperative that preventative health care physician training be supported. Many of these communities already face immense health care shortages.

By expanding on the mission of the Affordable Care Act, the Rural Preventive Health Care Training Act will provide affordable, accessible care to the millions of individuals and families who lack access to this basic right and are either receiving subpar care or have to travel for hours to see a qualified physician.

The Act will provide students interested in pursuing careers in preventative care with the opportunity to receive a stipend to attend a community college or institution that serves rural communities. Reports have shown that students are more likely to practice where they are trained, thus making the availability of training programs in rural communities essential in order to end rural health care shortages.

The Act will also increase staff support so that these preventative health care training programs become self-reliant and thrive in the long-term.

Additionally, understanding that rural communities in Hawaii will be different than those in the southern or Midwestern United States, this bill gives each center the latitude to create and implement innovative curricula for its own community, based on its specific needs.

The ACA represented a renewed commitment to providing effective and accessible care to millions of underserved individuals and families in our nation. The Rural Preventive Health Care Training Act will build on these efforts by helping to address shortages in qualified physicians and effective training programs in rural communities.

With passage of this bill, our country will take another step towards parity in basic health care and services for millions of Americans living in rural communities across the country.

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