Bustos & LaMalfa Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Create a New Position at the Department of Agriculture Focused on Serving Rural Health Care Needs

The Rural Health Liaison Act will strengthen health care delivery in rural communities.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) and Congressman Doug LaMalfa (CA-1) introduced a bipartisan bill that will designate a Rural Health Liaison at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), who will act as a direct point of contact at the USDA for questions related to health care in rural communities and how the agency can help.

 “Delivering health care in rural communities presents unique challenges that require innovative solutions,” Congresswoman Cheri Bustos said. “This is why I introduced the bipartisan Rural Health Liaison Act which will help ensure that the United States Department of Agriculture’s funds to bolster rural health care efforts are spent efficiently and effectively. By creating a Rural Health Liaison position at the USDA, we’ll make sure that small towns across the heartland have access to 21st century health care.”

 “Rural hospitals are a critical lifeline in rural America, both in terms of our economy and maintaining access to care,” Congressman Doug LaMalfa said. “With more and more red tape from the state and federal government, we need to ensure they are able to keep their doors open. USDA already offers grants to help smaller hospitals address health disparities, such as expanding telemedicine and combatting the ongoing opioid crisis. This bill directs USDA to make sure this funding is used efficiently by designating one point of contact within the Department to coordinate efforts between different agencies and serve as a liaison for rural communities.”

 The USDA has the ability to finance the construction of hospitals and the implementation of programs for telehealth and health education. The Rural Health Liaison would promote the awareness and availability of these resources, and provide guidance and technical assistance to USDA field offices and staff on how to best serve their communities. The Rural Health Liaison would also coordinate with other government agencies on rural health issues.

Health care is projected to create 4 million jobs by 2026, nearly one-third of all new jobs in the next decade. Hospitals and health care facilities are emerging as the top employers in rural communities. Despite provider shortages and population loss, rural health care employment grew 9% from 2001 to 2015. Health care has the promise to drive economic development in rural communities, and our federal investments should support that.

Congresswoman Bustos highlighted the bill’s introduction in a speech earlier this morning at the National Rural Health Association’s 2018 Policy Institute, where she was recognized as a 2018 Rural Health Champion.