Tester Passes Bill to Invest in Rural Medicine, Lower Health Care Costs
Senator Scored Big Wins for Montana in Annual Health & Human Services Appropriations Bill
(U.S. Senate) - U.S. Senator Jon Tester secured big investments in rural health care and addiction treatment today with the passage of the bipartisan 2019 Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill.
"If we want Montana to thrive we have to keep Montanans healthy," Tester said. "This legislation will help expand access to health care in rural areas and lower costs, while also combatting drug abuse and addiction."
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester secured critical investments for Montana in today's legislation-one of the 12 major bills that fund the federal government each year. The investments Tester secured include:
- $1.625 billion for Community Health Centers
- $1.5 billion for State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis (STR) Grants
- Including a $50 million set-aside for tribal organizations
- $249.47 million for Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs
- $24.5 million for rural telehealth initiatives
- $286.48 million for Title X Family Planning
- $722.6 million for Mental Health Block Grants
- $1.858 billion for Substance Abuse Block Grants
In addition to these major investments, Tester also secured two provisions to lower prescription drugs costs and bring more medical professionals to rural America.
Current regulations prohibit Medicare from funding resident training rotations at Critical Access Hospitals. This has significantly limited recruitment and training efforts in rural states like Montana, which is home to over 40 Critical Access Hospitals. That's why Tester secured a provision in today's legislation that urges Medicare to reconsider these regulations and support residency programs in rural hospitals. Tester has also introduced the Restoring Rural Residencies Act, which would override these regulations and encourage more medical professionals to practice in rural communities.
Tester also secured a provision that would lower prescription drug costs by reining in pharmaceutical middlemen. Under the current system, pharmacists that serve Medicare Part D patients work with a Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) to collect payment from the patient's insurance company. The PBM can then charge these pharmacies fees weeks or months after the sale, artificially inflating patients' out-of-pocket costs. That's why Jon secured a provision in today's legislation that urges Medicare to limit PBMs' ability to retroactively charge pharmacies for their services-similar to his bipartisan Improving Transparency and Accuracy in Medicare Part D Drug Spending Act.