Following Rural Health Summit, Tester Introduces Bill to Bring More Doctors to Rural Communities

Legislation Improves the Affordable Care Act and Restores a Pipeline of Medical Professionals to Critical Access Hospitals

(U.S. Senate)-Following his groundbreaking Rural Health Summit, Senator Jon Tester today introduced legislation that will improve the Affordable Care Act and bring more medical professionals to rural Montana communities.

Tester’s bill, the Restoring Rural Residencies Act, will allow Medicare to reimburse residency programs for the time residents spend at Critical Access Hospitals. Currently, regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act restrict Medicare from covering the costs of training resident physicians at a Critical Access Hospital, and has restricted efforts to expand the training medical professionals in rural communities.

“Folks in rural communities deserve access to quality health care,” Tester said. “Critical Access Hospitals are often the only place families can turn to for care in remote parts of our state. If we want more doctors to practice in rural areas, we need to train them in rural areas and this bill will get more doctors practicing in rural hospitals across Montana.”

Last week, Tester hosted the first ever Rural Health Summit and heard directly from health care providers, policy makers, and health care officials about the challenges of recruiting and retaining medical professionals in rural communities.

Tester’s bill will increase the number of doctors training in rural settings, and encourage more medical professionals to practice in rural communities.

Critical Access Hospitals are hospitals with fewer than 25 inpatient beds and are located in rural areas of the country. There are 46 Critical Access Hospitals across Montana.

Tester is also sponsoring the PARTS Act, which will allow rural hospitals to provide outpatient treatment to Medicare patients without requiring the presence of an attending physician, and the Critical Access Hospitals Relief Act, which removes the requirement that Critical Access Hospitals discharge or transfer patients in less than 96 hours.

Tester’s bill is supported by doctors, hospital professionals, and the WWAMI regional education program, which educates and trains the majority of Montana’s medical students:

“The Montana WWAMI program as an important part of the physician workforce pipeline in Montana looks forward to having access to rural rotations available in Montana during residency training. The Restoring Rural Residencies Act is key to allowing our small rural critical access hospitals in Montana to help train the next generation of Montana rural physician. This Act will be important to help solve the rural physician workforce problems in Montana and throughout the US,” said Dr. Jay Erickson, Assistant Dean of the Montana WWAMI Clinical Office.

“Current policy is very unfair to rural America and this legislation will help us deal with our severe physician shortage in Montana’s rural communities,” said Dr. Nicholas Wolter, CEO, Billings Clinic.

“This is a public health issue,” said Dick Brown, President/CEO of the Montana Hospital Association. “Our doctors are aging right along with their neighbors, and rural Montana will continue to bear the brunt of current and future medical workforce shortages. This bill will not only save lives by expanding rural health opportunities to highly trained professionals, it will improve health care quality and access throughout the region.”

“This important legislation addresses unintended consequences of the ACA. NRHA whole-heartedly supports and applauds the efforts of Senator Tester in fighting to improve access to physician care in rural America. Growing rural physician residency programs is the proven way to alleviate healthcare workforce shortages and bring needed care to underserved rural communities,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association.