WASHINGTON – Today, Representatives Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Phil Roe (TN-01) and David Kustoff (TN-08) introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Rural America Health Corps Act in the House to help address workforce shortages in rural health care. Specifically, this legislation would improve the National Health Services Corps (NHSC) by creating a program to provide new dedicated student loan forgiveness funding for health care providers serving rural areas. Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Doug Jones (D-AL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
“Our rural communities face unique health care challenges that we must do more to address,” Congresswoman Bustos said. “I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to help recruit and retain rural health care providers and ensure the needs of small towns across Northwest and Central Illinois are met. I’ll continue to look for innovative ways to make quality health care more accessible and affordable for hardworking Illinois families.”
“Rural areas across America, like those in Tennessee and Illinois, have had difficulty attracting and retaining qualified health care providers. Tennessee has seen 12 rural hospitals close, and without the ability to keep health care providers in rural areas, more closures are on the horizon. The Rural American Health Corps Act will go a long way toward incentivizing health care providers to rotate through and ultimately stay in rural areas. I am glad to be working in a bipartisan way with my colleagues Reps. Bustos and Kustoff on its introduction, and I hope to see its provisions convince more qualified health care providers stay and treat patients in areas like East Tennessee,” said Congressman Roe.
“As rural hospitals throughout Tennessee continue to close, many are left without access to emergency services. This has become a major problem, especially for folks in West Tennessee. That is why I introduced the Rural Health Innovation Act, which is included in this healthcare package. This bill will create two 5-year grant programs, allowing rural health departments to expand and build up their health services so they are prepared to meet the urgent needs of our communities,” said Rep. Kustoff. “Together, these three pieces of legislation will fill gaps left by hospital closures and allow West Tennesseans to get the care they deserve. I would like to thank Reps. Bustos and Roe for joining me in introducing this rural healthcare package, and I look forward to its quick passage.”
“Patients across rural Illinois face challenges accessing the health care they need because of serious workforce shortages – with too few medical providers and long distances between them. The Rural America Health Corps Act provides new funding and support for rural communities by expanding loan forgiveness programs so we can attract and retain more doctors, dentists, behavioral health specialists, and nurses. I’m proud to have Congresswoman Bustos join Senator Blackburn and me in this important bipartisan effort,” Senator Durbin said.
In order to repay student loans for doctors, dentists, behavioral health clinicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, the NHSC program currently provides up to $50,000 annually for two years of service. The Rural America Health Corps Act would create a new $25 million program to expand current NHSC placements and provide funding for up to five years instead to assist with recruitment and retention efforts.
As a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Congresswoman Bustos helped pass a robust Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) funding bill out of the House to improve rural health care, which included her following provisions:
- A $15 million increase for the NHSC – with total funding for the program at $120 million – which helps recruit primary care providers to underserved and rural areas through scholarships and loan repayment programs.
- A directive for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to examine how it can better recruit and train primary care physicians to address shortages of providers.
- A requirement for HHS to update the Appropriations Committee on strategies and best practices for coordination with schools and programs offering rural health curriculum – such as medical residencies – to improve the health care workforce in rural communities.
- A requirement for HHS to coordinate with the Department of Agriculture and its newly established Rural Health Liaison to improve health outcomes in rural America.