Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has been crossing the state during the August Congressional recess, talking with local leaders to learn about the challenges facing communities.
“There’s a good bit of conversation about access to health care and rural health,” Blackburn said after a meeting with local elected and community leaders in Cumberland County Wednesday.
Recent hospital closures, like at Jamestown Regional Medical Center or Cumberland River Hospital in Celina, have concerned leaders outside those communities, as well.
Blackburn pointed to her recent Rural Health Agenda and its three priorities: providing incentives for providers to serve rural communities, expand access to telemedicine across state lines and encourage local innovation.
The three bills have garnered bipartisan support in the Senate.
The Rural America Health Corps Act would create a loan repayment program for the National Health Service Corps and include nurse practitioners and physician assistants as well as physicians. The bill would waive income tax liability for loan repayments and establish a sliding scale for eligible loan repayment base on the severity of the health provider shortage.
The Rural Health Innovation Act would establish two five-year grant programs. One program would focus on providing Federally Qualified Health Centers or Rural Health Clinics in communities to meet urgent care and triage needs. The other program would expand rural health departments to meet urgent care needs. Priority would be given to communities that have experienced a hospital closure in the past seven years.
“It allows communities to figure out how to reach out to regional partners,” Blackburn said. “We want communities to find a way that best works for them.”
The Telemedicine Across State Lines Act could have significant impact in Tennessee, which is bordered by eight states, Blackburn said.
Blackburn said she understands the concern of seniors about the long-term viability of Social Security and Medicare.
“Medicare and Social Security are trust funds. They are not entitlements,” Blackburn said. “This is something people work for your entire working life.”
She said that investment is one reason she believes many seniors oppose plans to expand Medicare coverage to everyone.
“They have paid for this,” Blackburn said. “Medicare for all means health care for none. This socialist agenda that is being advocated by those on the left does not serve our seniors well.”
Blackburn has also introduced legislation to remove regulatory requirements for rural communities. Under the legislation, federally funded projects outside a metropolitan statistical area would be exempt from Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act requirements.
“We want our rural communities to be strong and healthy and viable,” Blackburn said. “The Plateau is home to some vibrant, creative communities. I always enjoy my visits here and look forward to being back more often.”