USDA Announces Quality, Access Grants for Rural Health
Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman last Thursday announced the approval of $15 million in grants for 42 Distance Learning and Telemedicine programs that will benefit some of the nation's remote rural areas. More than $6 million of the grants will fund 18 projects involving over 77 health care institutions. Veneman said, "These grants are important for helping rural areas become better equipped with the use of high-speed, modern technology" (USDA release, 6/14).
In other rural health news, members of a bipartisan, bicameral Rural Health Caucus this week introduced the Rural Health Improvement Act of 2001, which seeks to assist rural health facilities to provide better access to quality and affordable health care. Provisions of the legislation include:
- Equalizing the Medicare Disproportionate Share payments to help rural hospitals pay for the costs of serving a high proportion of uninsured patients by eliminating the cap on rural hospitals' add-on payments -- currently, urban facilities can receive unlimited add-on payments while rural facilities are capped at 5.25% of the total of inpatient payment;
- Extending the wage index increases to additional services, including home care, skilled nursing and outpatient care;
- Creating loan and grant programs to assist rural facilities in paying for new equipment and technology and support current effort to expand telehealth networks; and
- Increasing rural health clinic reimbursements.
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