In the State of the Union Address, President Biden proposed his solutions to the biggest concerns we are currently facing as a nation, including those facing rural health.
The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) has been pleased to see a focus on rural communities early in the President’s term, recognizing that for too long rural communities have faced underinvestment and persistent poverty. Significant investments in rural through the American Rescue Plan and Bipartisan Infrastructure Package include addressing rural health coverage gaps, keeping rural hospitals open, addressing rural healthcare workforce shortages, as well as maintaining and expanding telehealth. These are in line with NRHA’s advocacy focus since the onset of the Biden Presidency.
Of note, the President used the speech to launch a new Strategy to Address our National Mental Health Crisis. Rural America suffers from the effects of long-standing shortages of specialty mental health services, long travel distances to obtain treatment, and stigma and cultural/ societal attitudes toward receiving behavioral health services. Last fall, NRHA provided comments to a Senate Finance Committee request for information on mental health care. Upon initial review of the President’s proposed mental health strategy, NRHA is pleased to see many of our recommendations reflected in this new initiative, especially around investing in a strong behavioral health workforce, integration of behavioral health and primary care, and addressing the opioid crisis. HHS Secretary Becerra will kick off the National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health to hear directly from Americans across the country about the behavioral health challenges they are facing and engage with local elected officials and leaders to strengthen the mental health and crisis care system in our communities.
Last night President Biden announced his proposals to address several issues important to rural areas, including:
- COVID-19 “test to treat” program which will allow individuals to receive antiviral pills on the spot when doing in person testing at local pharmacies and locations like community health centers and long-term care facilities.
- Addressing the cost of prescription drugs including Medicare drug negotiation.
- Continuing to advance maternal health care in America.
- Veterans health and addressing toxic exposure.
- Creating of ARPA-H, the Advance Research Projects Agency for Health.
Of potential concern, the President announced measures to improve nursing home quality, including minimum staffing levels and increased inspections. Given historic under-reimbursement by public payers and recent staffing shortages associated with COVID-19, NRHA is concerned about implications for rural nursing home facilities ability to meet the potentially burdensome new standards. NRHA will closely monitor developments and advocate on behalf of rural long-term care providers across the country.
NRHA supports the Administration’s Unity Agenda to bring together all parts of our country to address disparities among our citizens. NRHA looks forward to continuing work with the Administration and Congress to ensure that rural communities have access to critical health care they need and deserve.