Merkley introduces bill to establish rural healthcare office

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Minnesota Senator Tina Smith have introduced the Rural Health Equity Act, S. 3149, in the United States Senate.

The proposed legislation would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish the Office of Rural Health within the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The goal would be to help address the challenges that rural communities face.

In a statement from his office, Merkley states that there is currently no dedicated rural health office within the CDC to identify the unique health challenges rural Americans are facing such as heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke – compared to people living in urban areas.

Under the proposed legislation the new Office of Rural Health would be tasked with improving health disparities and challenges rural hospitals and health districts face compared to their urban counterparts. The office would serve as the primary point of contact for rural health care providers and the CDC for information exchange and sharing. It would disseminate, conduct and coordinate research around public health issues impacting rural populations. And administer grants and contracts for technical assistance to improve health care in rural areas.

“I hold a town hall in each of Oregon’s counties each year, and in so many of our counties I hear time and again about the unique challenges of providing and accessing health care in a rural community,” said Merkley. “Folks living in rural communities deserve national policy makers’ attention to the problems they face. It’s time to move beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to tackling our national health challenges and ensure that we are making progress on improving health disparities faced specifically by rural Americans.”

As of press time the legislation has been referred to the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.