Senator Hyde-Smith talks rural healthcare in Mississippi

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith participated in a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing this week to question Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar about his agency’s FY2019 budget request and how to help improve healthcare for Mississippians living in rural areas.

“I commend the Trump administration for working actively to address the healthcare needs in rural areas,” Hyde-Smith said.  “Rural hospitals in Mississippi have struggled in recent years due to burdensome regulations and changes in payment policies.  It is good news that CMS has officially committed to applying a rural lens to CMS programs and policies,”

Hyde-Smith asked Azar how the first CMS Rural Health Strategy, would improve access to healthcare in rural portions of the U.S., address hospital viability, and change CMS rules and regulations, including Medicare and Medicaid.

“I am from Brookhaven, a small town in Southwest Mississippi,” Hyde-Smith said. “I know firsthand how our being such a rural state presents challenges to healthcare.”

Azar said the new strategy would allow, expanded use of telehealth technologies through the Medicare Advantage program. He also welcomed help to “identify where we have barriers in our payment regimes and regulations that impede alternative or innovative methods of care delivery in a rural setting.”

“We know the issue in Mississippi of rural hospitals suffering and closing.  Maybe traditional hospital models aren’t the best way to deliver care or economically feasible.  Are we getting in the way of the creativity of new models for delivering the kind of care needed in those communities?” Azar testified.

Hyde-Smith also asked Azar about FY2019 funding to address the shortfall of physicians working in rural areas and highlighted a Mississippi program to help remedy such shortages.

“Rural America has 20 percent of the population yet only 9 percent of the physicians,” Hyde-Smith said. “When I was in the Mississippi Legislature, we worked to establish the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program to help address the shortage of physicians in the rural areas of the state. It was a great benefit and we’re still reaping the benefits today.”

In answer to the Senator’s question regarding rural physician scholarship programs, Azar said their budget is written in a way that would prioritize scholarship and reimbursement programs that are proficient in helping get physicians to serve in rural areas.

Below is a video of the hearing: