Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02) recently joined the bipartisan Rural Health Caucus to improve understanding and coordinate policies that address rural health issues in Northwest Washington. The Rural Health Caucus, which relaunched on September 20, is led by Reps. Diana Harshbarger (R-TN) and Jill Tokuda (D-HI).
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02) recently joined the bipartisan Rural Health Caucus to improve understanding and coordinate policies that address rural health issues in Northwest Washington. The Rural Health Caucus, which relaunched on September 20, is led by Reps. Diana Harshbarger (R-TN) and Jill Tokuda (D-HI).
“Ensuring access to high quality, affordable health care is essential for people who live in rural Northwest Washington communities,” said Larsen. “My goal in joining the Rural Health Caucus is to better understand and address the unique challenges rural communities face in delivering health care to enable all people to live healthy lives.”
Larsen is Working to Break Down Barriers to Rural Health Care
Larsen is a champion of federal investments in resources and innovative solutions to lower drug prices and improve health care access and outcomes in rural communities.
Listening to Rural Health Care Providers - Larsen recently met with representatives from Island Health, PeaceHealth and Skagit Regional Health to discuss the need to address nurse workforce shortages. Larsen also met with WhidbeyHealth and Verity Solutions to discuss the importance of protecting the 340B program, which enables health care providers to reduce the cost of specialty drugs for low-income residents, and increasing access to specialized health care services in rural communities.
Lowering Costs for Working Families and Seniors - Last year, Larsen supported the Inflation Reduction Act, which enables Medicare to directly negotiate the price of prescription drugs with drug companies, caps out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $2,000 per year and insulin copays at $35 per month for Medicare beneficiaries and extends for three years the Affordable Care Act tax credits included in the American Rescue Plan. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, in Washington state, more than 28,000 Medicare beneficiaries will save an average of $603 per year on insulin, and more than 96,000 Medicare beneficiaries will save an average of $73.31 on covered vaccines.
Larsen is Focused on Rural Health Care Priorities
Larsen is committed to raising awareness about and addressing the unique health care needs affecting rural Northwest Washington residents, including through:
Improving Access to Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment - Rural area residents struggle to receive specialized substance abuse treatment and are more likely to be prescribed opioids due to a lack of alternative pain management options compared to residents in urban areas. Additionally, rural communities face a shortage of medications to treat opioid use disorder. Larsen applauded the Health Resources and Services Administration’s recent announcement to award $990,557 to provide more medication and counseling and behavioral therapy services to combat opioid use disorder on Whidbey Island.
Breaking Down Barriers for Military Families and Veterans – The Department of Defense’s Naval Health Clinic in Oak Harbor is only open Monday through Friday. Military families who need health care on weekends or outside of business hours have access to limited options. Last Congress, Larsen reintroduced the bipartisan Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Actto make it easier and safer for veterans to keep their medical appointments and access quality health care, regardless of where they live. In addition, WhidbeyHealth has struggled with solvency issues because much of the population they serve benefits from TRICARE or Medicare/Medicaid, which reimburses health care providers at a relatively low rate. Lower reimbursements have led to lower availability of critical care in rural areas.
Increasing the Number of Beds for Long-Term Care and Pediatric Behavioral Health – Northwest Washington is home to three rural access hospitals in Friday Harbor, Coupeville and Sedro-Woolley that provide 24/7 emergency care services but are limited to 25 or fewer beds. Additionally, youth struggling with behavioral and mental health are particularly underserved: Washington state has fewer than 100 long-term inpatient psychiatric beds for youth to serve the state’s 1.1 million children ages 18 and under. Larsen supported the Helping Kid’s Cope Act to invest in pediatric mental health care.
Addressing Workforce Shortages – A lack of affordable housing and insufficient child care options disincentivizes health care professionals from living and working in the rural communities they serve. Larsen supported the Child Care for Working Families Act which would expand child care options and affordability. To further support the health care workforce, Larsen supports increasing funding to train and educate health professionals and address nursing education, practice, retention and recruitment.
Improving Access to Reproductive Health Care –There are currently no in-person abortion services available in Island County. Larsen supported protecting a doctor’s ability to prescribe medication abortion via telehealth to reach patients across the country. Rural residents also face barriers to reproductive health care because of insufficient health care capacity. Larsen supported additional funding for sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinics to respond to a rise in monkeypox, which particularly harmed men who have sex with men in rural areas.