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Rural health care hoping for help in federal bill

DES MOINES — Health care systems in rural Iowa are struggling, especially after a year of the pandemic, and an effort is underway in Congress to find a fix.

Members of the U.S. House are considering the Rural and Underserved Small Hospital Protection Act, known as the RUSH Act. Iowa Farmers Union president Aaron Lehman says rural facilities are having a hard time finding staff.

“You have to have boots on the ground in the health care system to make sure essential services can be met,” Lehman says. “As our rural communities try to see how their community can develop either from an economic standpoint or a social standpoint, if they cannot find the personnel for their health care system, everything else grinds to a stop.”

The bill would make changes to how rural health clinics are reimbursed for services by the federal government, changes Lehman says are critical. “Providing some clarity to that is the first step in addressing whatever inequities there are to get our rural health system up to speed,” Lehman says. “We really have to take a close look at it, but the discussion is going to be vital to us moving this ahead.”

He says the pandemic brought on many of the difficulties facing rural health care providers as they attempt to meet the needs of underserved areas. “They’re on the front lines and they don’t have all the ammunition they need in order to combat COVID issues,” Lehman says. “They’ve had to find all sorts of ways to work together because those resources don’t just sit across town. Challenges are huge and the pandemic has really exposed what our barriers are in our health care system.”

Lehman says Iowa Farmers Union will continue to weigh in on the rural health care problem and is studying the legislation to see what will work best.

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