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Gabbard announces legislation to increase rural access to healthcare


Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has announced new bipartisan legislation to ensure the federal government recognizes the unique hardships facing Hawaii’s rural areas in providing quality healthcare options.

The bill, H.R.5592, would allow Hawaii and Alaska to decide which areas of the state should be considered rural and, in turn, eligible for federal grants and programs dedicated to improve the healthcare services in rural areas.

Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) is an original co-sponsor of the bill.

The bill will allow Hawaii and Alaska to make their own state-designated Frontier Areas. Currently, the federal government determines the areas based on a statistical model that does not take into account the unique geographical challenges facing Hawaii and Alaska.

“Hawaii should be able to determine its own Frontier Areas because the current federal process doesn’t know or serve our communities, therefore negatively impacting the ability of our rural areas to qualify for certain federal assistance,” said Gabbard, who met with concerned rural community health leaders last month. “The problem with the federal standards is that it relies on population numbers and physical distances from urban areas without fully recognizing how long it can take to drive from Hana or how a bad rainstorm can completely shut off Hauula from Honolulu. The federal government cannot rely solely on numbers to understand the reality our island residents face.”

“We face many challenges in Alaska when it comes to accessing healthcare, particularly when it comes to the unique and non-traditional travel required to reach villages and towns that have medical facilities,” said Young. “Our problems in rural Alaska are too important to ignore and we should not place one-sized fits all restrictions on communities that clearly need our support. The State of Alaska knows best when it comes to understanding our unique geography and our people, and I believe they should decide which communities are considered rural. The federal government must understand that.”

In addition to allowing Hawaii and Alaska to use state-approved definitions for “rural” areas, H.R.5592 would also create another frontier category for other areas facing geographic remoteness that is not adequately reflected by simple distance and population figures.

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