ICYMI: Blackburn, Hickenlooper Introduce Bipartisan Effort To Improve Rural Health Care

March 23, 2023

U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) introduced the Rural Health Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation to strengthen access to care. This bill would help rural medical facilities to increase staff, extend hours of operation, acquire additional technology and equipment, and pay for construction costs. Representative David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“It is critical we help support rural health care facilities to expand access to urgent care in their communities,” said Senator Blackburn. “As I meet annually with community leaders across all 95 counties in Tennessee, finding bipartisan solutions to improve access to rural health care is a priority.”

“Rural health clinics mean the difference between life and death in remote Colorado communities. From transporting patients a hundred miles to the nearest hospital, to lifesaving primary care – health clinics are vital,” said Senator Hickenlooper. “This bill gets those clinics the staff, technology, and equipment they need to continue saving lives.”

“I am pleased to introduce the Rural Health Innovation Act which will work to alleviate the healthcare challenges families in West Tennessee face every day,” said Congressman Kustoff. “This crucial piece of legislation will help increase investment in our rural health departments and ensure urgent healthcare needs are met across our nation. Thank you to Senator Blackburn, and my colleagues in the House of Representatives, for working with me on this legislation to help address healthcare delivery challenges in rural America and maintain quality care close to home.”

“The National Rural Health Association applauds Senators Marsha Blackburn and Hickenlooper for their work to innovate and enhance rural health care,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Health Association.“The Rural Health Innovation Act enables critical transformation in rural America to expand provision of emergency health services vital to rural communities. This program will help rural providers purchase equipment and pay essential staff to enhance health outcomes in rural areas throughout the country.”

The bill would establish a competitive grant program allowing Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) (outpatient clinics that qualify for specific reimbursement under Medicare and Medicaid) or Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) (clinics located in rural underserved areas to boost access to primary care) to increase staffing resources, extend hours of operation, acquire additional technology and equipment, and pay for construction costs.

Specifically, the Rural Health Innovation Act:

  • Creates two 5-year grant programs, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Community-Based Division.
    • One grant program would help establish FQHCs and RHCs capable of meeting the community’s urgent care and triage needs; Grants will be limited to $500,000 for existing facilities and $750,000 for startup facilities.
    • The other grant program would expand rural health departments to meet urgent care and triage needs; Grants will be limited to $500,000. Communities must have an existing health department with a government-funded building, some nursing staff, and medical equipment.
  • Communities must be rural and be located at least thirty minutes from the nearest emergency department, using the speed limit on the most direct route from the proposed site to the nearest emergency department or be inaccessible by road.
  • Communities that have lost a hospital in the last seven years will have priority.