CELEBRATING NATIONAL RURAL HEALTH DAY; Congressional Record Vol. 164, No. 181
(House of Representatives - November 15, 2018)

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[Pages H9535-H9536]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]


  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from 
Pennsylvania (Mr. Thompson) for 5 minutes.
  Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, this week is Rural Health 
Week in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and today is National Rural 
Health Day.
  It is a time to promote awareness of the full range of issues that 
impact approximately 60 million rural Americans. Pennsylvania ranks as 
one of the States with the highest number of rural residents, with 23 
percent of Pennsylvanians residing in rural areas.
  Rural communities face unique healthcare concerns, such as a lack of 
providers; accessibility issues, particularly in terms of 
transportation and technology; affordability issues as a result of 
larger percentages of uninsured and underinsured citizens; and greater 
out-of-pocket health costs.
  Mr. Speaker, before I was elected to the House of Representatives, I 
spent nearly 30 years in the nonprofit healthcare field assisting those 
facing life-changing diseases and disabilities. I am acutely aware of 
the challenges many face when it comes to obtaining reasonably priced 
healthcare. It is especially critical for rural America, like much of 
my congressional district.
  We are facing a healthcare crisis in our Nation's rural areas. These 
often disadvantaged populations are still struggling to access 
affordable quality care. Many remain uninsured; most are underinsured. 
However, access to quality care remains the largest challenge.
  Even when people gain access to health insurance, it does not equal 
access to care. Rural hospitals across the country are closing, leaving 
patients without access to their emergency rooms and their long-term 
care facilities.
  Mr. Speaker, 90 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and nearly 
700 are at risk. One in three rural hospitals is financially 
vulnerable. At the current closure rate, more than 25 percent of rural 
hospitals will close in less than a decade.
  Continued cuts in hospital payments have taken their toll, forcing 
hospitals to operate in the red until they finally make the painful 
decision to stop providing care. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of 
rural hospitals operating at a loss rose from 40 to 44 percent.
  In addition to hospital closures, a workforce shortage plagues rural 
America. Mr. Speaker, 77 percent of

[[Page H9536]]

more than 2,000 rural communities in the United States are designated 
as having a shortage of healthcare professionals. Recruitment and 
retention of experienced professionals, including primary care 
physicians, is an ongoing challenge.
  That is why I am a proud sponsor of H.R. 5641, the State Offices of 
Rural Health Reauthorization Bill of 2018. This legislation benefits 
States by increasing annual funding and reauthorizing vital programs 
for rural Americans for the first time since the 1990s. I urge my 
colleagues to cosponsor this piece of legislation today.
  Another issue that has ravaged our rural communities is the opioid 
epidemic. It continues to leave even more rural Americans in need of 
crucial health services.
  Adolescents and young adults living in rural areas are more 
vulnerable to opioid abuse than their urban counterparts. The 
prevalence of fatal drug overdoses has skyrocketed in rural areas. High 
unemployment and a greater rate of the types of injuries that result in 
prescriptions for opioid medications have contributed to this.
  There are ways to increase treatment options. As a part of the VA 
MISSION Act, which was signed into law in June, I included a provision 
that expands healthcare access for our veterans through telemedicine. 
We now allow VA-credentialed healthcare providers to practice 
telemedicine across State lines.
  Mr. Speaker, our veterans should receive the best care possible no 
matter where they are located and where they live. With advances in 
technology, we see new opportunities for veterans to obtain coverage 
through telemedicine, especially in some of our most rural areas.
  For those in rural regions, the need is great and services are 
scarce. Let us all recognize and celebrate the power of our vibrant 
rural communities in the face of these grave challenges.
  As we celebrate National Rural Health Day today, it is my hope that 
we continue to strive for a 21st century healthcare system that works 
for everyone in America. Thanks to technology, we have the opportunity 
to expand services, regardless of where one resides, and all Americans 
deserve no less.