Legislation creates opportunities for more health care professionals in rural areas

Update on rural health by Trey Davis, Assistant Director of Governmental Relations

Farmers, like any other business owner, are constantly looking for new ways to maximize their profits while controlling expenses. In rural Virginia, the cost of health care has risen dramatically for farmers, their families, and their employees. Combined with a severe lack of access to hospitals and physicians in rural areas, health care is a growing problem that needs innovative solutions at both the state and federal level.

Allowing more people in rural areas that will diagnose conditions and provide treatment can go a long way towards controlling the “out-of-pocket” cost for farmers. HB 346, sponsored by Delegate John O’ Bannon (R-Richmond), is an opportunity to have more health care professionals in these underserved parts of the Commonwealth. The legislation will allow nurse practitioners to practice as part of “patient care teams” where a physician licensed to practice medicine in the Commonwealth provides management and leadership. It also streamlines requirements for written or electronic practice agreements for nurse practitioners, and provides that physicians practicing as part of a patient care team have the option of requiring nurse practitioners be covered by professional malpractice insurance.

HB346, a compromise between the Medical Society of Virginia (MSV) and the Virginia Council on Nurse Practitioners (VCNP), will increase the number of patients seen in rural areas by enabling physicians to manage more nurse practitioners. It also provides some new language that will allow more flexibility for NPs to treat patients in nursing homes and free clinics. As the bill awaits the Governor’s Signature, I hope farmers will be optimistic about having more medically licensed caregivers nearby. The less you have to travel to find quality care, than the lower your cost. The more nurse practitioners nearby, the greater your accessibility.

Health care costs and health care accessibility have been at the forefront of the public policy debate ever since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) by Congress in 2010. While the constitutionality of that law is set to be debated by the Supreme Court next week, the Virginia General Assembly is taking steps to provide greater access in rural areas.

We at Virginia Farm Bureau are thankful that the medical community is looking for legislative solutions that will provide farmers the quality health care they need at a business cost they can afford.

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