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Sewell’s rural health bill clears key House committee

Red heart shape and medical stethoscope on blue background top view. Health care, medicare and cardiology concept.

The House Ways & Means Committee advanced the HEARTS and Rural Relief Act this week. The legislation was introduced by U.S. Reps. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, and Devin Nunes, R-California.

The purpose of H.R. 3429 is to improve the Medicare program and provide relief for rural areas, the disabled community and service members.

“I am proud the Committee advanced this bipartisan health care bill to provide better care for servicemembers and Alabamians living in rural areas,” said Sewell. “It is important that Congress works to reduce unnecessary, burdensome regulations, like Medicare’s critical access hospital rule and TRICARE’s Medicare Part B rule, that negatively restrict Americans’ access to affordable, quality medical care.”

“This bipartisan bill will implement crucial reforms to help servicemembers, residents of rural communities, and disabled Americans,” said Nunes. “It also strengthens inventive providers such as Ambulatory Surgical Centers, which will encourage experimentation and innovation in healthcare delivery.”

The bipartisan legislation works to improve the Medicare program in the following ways:

It temporarily codifies a delay in a Medicare rule for critical access hospitals (CAHs), like Choctaw General Critical Access Hospital in the 7th Congressional District, and small rural hospitals that requires a physician or certain providers to be on site at a facility until 2021. These requirements can be challenging for already understaffed rural hospitals and CAHs to fulfill, as they may require supervising specialists that are hard to find or completely unavailable, potentially preventing access to care for rural patients.

The legislation also corrects what the sponsors feel is a flaw in the Medicare and TRICARE systems that imposes an undue financial penalty on wounded veterans who return to work. In order to keep TRICARE for Life benefits, many disabled Veterans who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) but return to work are required to get Medicare Part B coverage to retain their TRICARE. The HEARTS Act would allow servicemembers who qualify for SSDI and then return to work to maintain their TRICARE coverage without having to keep their Part B coverage, which is often more expensive.

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The legislation increases access to complex rehabilitation technology, such as manual wheelchairs, to increase access to this vital medical equipment.

It provides Medicare coverage for a prostate cancer screening method that has proven to reduce false diagnoses. In Alabama, the rate of prostate cancer among black men is 200 percent higher than the rate is for white men.

At the same time, the legacy of the Tuskegee experiment has caused generations of minority men and women to be suspicious of the health care system, which contributes to a reluctance by minority men to seek prostate cancer screenings.

Alabama is 49th in the country in life expectancy at 75.4 years of age.

Alabama is 49th in life expectancy, falling further behind the national average

The legislation is supported by the Federation of American Hospitals and the Wounded Warrior Project, among other organizations.

H.R. 3429 now heads to the House floor for consideration by the full House.
To read H.R. 3429, the HEARTS and Rural Relief Act, click here.

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Congresswoman Sewell is a member of the Subcommittee on Health. Congressman Nunes is the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Health.

Sewell is currently in her fifth term representing Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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