Editors, News Directors: The news release below was issued by the National Rural Health Association Dec. 13; Hilda Heady, WVU’s associate vice president for rural health, is the president of the Association.

WVU Rural Health Expert Joins Budget Debate

"Rural Health Safety Net" cuts are pulled back

Alexandria, VA – The National Rural Health Association is very pleased to learn that the Congressional Conference Committee responsible for redrafting the FY06 Labor/HHS/Education appropriations conference agreement has agreed to restore funding to several important programs that form what the NRHA calls the "federal rural health safety net" – a group of programs, created either specifically for rural areas or for all underserved areas, that work together to address the pressing health care needs of rural America.

"I am appreciative that the conferees have listened to NRHA and its members and chosen rural health as one of the few areas of this bill to receive additional support,” said Hilda Heady, NRHA President. "But I beg of lawmakers to realize that the steady decline in funding for all rural health programs over the last several years, and this year’s outright elimination of several safety net programs, is very unwise. Continued minimal investment in the health of our nation’s rural communities will only result in harm to some of the poorest and sickest people in our country."

The previous conference agreement, which the NRHA opposed and was defeated by the House of Representatives on November 17th, eliminated funding for the Rural Research/Policy line item and Area Health Education Centers (AHECs), and cut Rural Health Outreach Grants by approximately seventy-five percent. The newly minted conference agreement restores each of these programs to their FY05 funding levels.

"The NRHA commends the half-dozen U.S. Representatives who crossed party lines and voted "no" on the last version of this bill and cited rural health cuts as one of their major concerns – and is grateful that the conference committee decided to restore these three, critical safety net programs," said Alan Morgan, NRHA’s CEO. "This is a testimony to the power of the NRHA members who have been incredibly mobilized on this bill and poured hundreds of calls, emails and faxes into Capitol Hill offices to educate policymakers about the importance of supporting rural health funding." Morgan added, "The bill, however, still leaves the overall rural health safety net in need of serious repair, but at least this impressive grassroots groundswell kept it from being completely torn apart."

This new conference agreement restores approximately $64 million to three very important rural health programs in the rural health safety net that fund many programs and efforts including: the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, the nation’s rural health research centers, grants that help rural communities address a wide-range of issues from prenatal care to diabetes to mental heath, and training that helps recruit and retain desperately-needed medical professionals in rural areas. These line items help form the federal infrastructure for rural health services and their loss would have turned back the clock about 20 years for rural health.

But the conference agreement still cuts about $136 million dollars from the safety net, including the elimination of funds for five line items: Rural EMS, the Healthy Community Access Grant Program, Health Education Training Centers, the Quentin Burdick Program for Rural Training, and Geriatric Education Centers. It also reduces funding for the State Offices of Rural Health, Rural Community Access to Medical Devices, and the National Health Service Corps.

The NRHA is very concerned about the impact of these reductions on rural health delivery, health professions training, geriatric education, and emergency medical services. There is no policy basis for the reduction or elimination of these successful and necessary programs. The NRHA must seriously question the federal government’s commitment to actually improving health in rural and underserved areas, rather than just keeping it barely afloat.

The NRHA is a national nonprofit organization with more than 10,000 members that provide leadership on rural health issues. The association’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of rural Americans and to provide leadership on rural health issues through advocacy, communication, education and research. The NRHA membership is made up of a diverse collection of individuals and organizations, all of whom share the common bond of an interest in rural health.

- WVU -

For more information:
Hilda Heady, (304) 293-6753


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