The House Appropriations Committee released the fiscal year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill today. The legislation includes funding through September 30, 2017 - the end of the fiscal year - and prevents a government shutdown.
The National Rural Health Association is pleased that critical rural health care safety net programs are funded. Under the omnibus bill, the Rural Hospital Flexibility Grant Program receives an additional $2 million and directs HRSA to give preference in grant awards to Critical Access Hospitals serving rural communities with high rates of poverty, unemployment and substance abuse. The bill also provides additional funding for telehealth and the State Offices of Rural Health. The Rural Health Outreach programs are funded at $65.5 million.
NRHA applauds the bill for an increase in opioid funding. Rural communities are struggling with prescription opioids and heroin abuse. While opioid use generally is on the rise nationwide, rural adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable.
While NRHA is pleased with the support for rural health programs, NRHA is disappointed that the bill calls for $161 billion in discretionary funding for Labor, Health and Education. This is a reduction of $934 million below FY 2016 and is $2.86 billion less than the Obama Administration requested. As in previous years, the funding does not include any discretionary funding for the Affordable Care Act.
Funding for the rural health safety net is more important than ever as rural Americans are facing a hospital closure crisis. Seventy-eight rural hospitals have closed since 2010. Right now, 673 additional facilities are vulnerable and could close—this represents over 1/3 of rural hospitals in the U.S. Continued cuts in hospital payments have taken their toll, forcing far too many closures. Medical deserts are appearing across rural America, leaving many of our nation’s most vulnerable populations without timely access to care.
Rural health programs assist rural communities in maintaining and building a strong health care delivery system into the future. Most importantly, these programs help increase the capacity of the rural health care delivery system and true safety net providers.
Programs in the rural health safety net increase access to health care, help communities create new health programs for those in need and train the future health professionals that will care for the 62 million rural Americans. With modest investments, these programs evaluate, study and implement quality improvement programs and health information technology systems.
NRHA asks Congress to support strong funding for these important rural health programs.