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Kaine Cosponsors Legislation to Address Rural Health Inequities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, on National Rural Health Day, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, announced his co-sponsorship of the Rural Health Equity Act, legislation that would establish a new Office of Rural Health within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and help to address the unique health care challenges and inequities faced by rural communities across America. The bill was first introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tina Smith (D-MN) and Congressman A. Donald McEachin (D-VA-04) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Even before COVID, far too many rural communities faced challenges accessing quality health care. This issue has only been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Senator Kaine. “This legislation is an important step toward ensuring Virginians across the Commonwealth have access to reliable and affordable health care, regardless of their zip code.”

Despite the millions of Americans living and working in rural areas, and the health disparities and challenges faced by rural populations, no dedicated rural health office currently exists within the CDC to identify and address these challenges. Rural Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke than their urban counterparts. Meanwhile, residents of these areas can also face limited access to specialty medical care and exposures to additional environmental hazards. Communities of color, veterans, and LGBTQ+ individuals may also face limited access to culturally competent and inclusive health care and services.

The Rural Health Equity Act would establish an Office of Rural Health within the CDC. Specifically, this office would be tasked with:

  • Identifying and improving health disparities and challenges faced by rural communities;
  • Serving as the primary point of contact within the CDC on matters pertaining to rural health, and coordinating within the agency to develop and promulgate policies and programs to improve health care and services for rural populations;
  • Conducting, coordinating, promoting, and disseminating research regarding public health issues impacting rural populations, including rural minority and LGBTQ+ populations; and
  • Administering grants and contracts to provide technical assistance to support activities related to improving health and health care in rural areas.

In April, Kaine introduced the CONNECT for Health Act  to expand telehealth and make it easier for Virginians to access health care providers. Parts of this bill were included in COVID-19 relief legislation to expand access to telehealth during the pandemic and fund its implementation, but Kaine is still pushing for passage of the rest of the legislation. Kaine has also introduced the bipartisan Save Rural Hospitals Act of 2021 to provide additional financial support for rural hospitals that are operating on very thin margins.