A Kansas Senator introduced legislation Wednesday he hopes delivers a shot in the arm to rural health care.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, is co-sponsoring the Craig Thomas Rural Hospital and Provider Equity Act, or "R-HOPE." It changes Medicare regulations for rural hospitals and providers, equalizing payments to reflect their low patient volume.
It also creates a loan program to help with crumbling buildings and infrastructure in rural facilities and extends two incentive programs to attract doctors to rural areas.
Another provision allows marriage and family therapists and licensed professional counselors to bill Medicare for their services and be paid the rate of social workers. Currently, the Medicare program only permits psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and clinical nurse specialists to bill Medicare for mental health services provided to seniors. However, most rural counties do not have a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and mental health services often are provided only through marriage and family therapists and licensed professional counselors.
Finally, this bill uses technology to improve home health services and quality for care by creating a pilot program providing incentives for home health agencies to purchase and utilize home monitoring and communications technologies and to facilitate telehealth services across state lines.
"The Craig Thomas Rural Hospital and Provider Equity Act recognizes that rural health care providers have different needs than their urban counterparts and health care is not one-size-fits-all," Roberts said.
The bill is named for the late Wyoming Sen. Craig Thomas, who was diagnosed with leukemia two days after his 2006 reelection and died in June 2007.
"I am proud and honored to introduce this bill on behalf of Craig Thomas," Roberts said. "We all miss him greatly as a personal friend, confidant and colleague. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Susan, his sons Patrick and Greg, and his daughter Lexie."