November 05, 2009

Udall Introduces Bill to Increase Health Care Access for Rural New Mexicans

Rural TECH Act of 2009 will use Telemedicine to Improve Rural and Indian Health Care

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M. today introduced legislation to increase access to health care for rural Americans who often don’t have medical specialists in their communities or must travel long distances for care.

The Rural TECH (Telemedicine Enhancing Community Health) Act of 2009 would increase the use of telehealth technologies like video conferencing to connect medical experts with rural providers, facilities and patients and provide critical health services and education.

“The disparities in our health care system are most startling in our rural areas, where residents are more likely to be uninsured, have higher rates of chronic disease, and often must travel hundreds of miles to receive medial care,” Udall said. “The Rural TECH Act is a first step toward remedying this unsustainable situation. By using technologies like telehealth, we will improve rural Americans’ access to the health care providers and care they need.”

The Rural TECH Act of 2009 would:

  • Create three telehealth pilot projects to analyze clinical health outcomes and cost-effectiveness of telehealth systems in medically underserved communities and tribal areas. The projects would focus on behavioral health, health care worker capacity in rural areas, and stroke rehabilitation using telehealth technology.
  • Expand access to telehealth services for stroke, a leading cause of death and long-term disability, regardless of whether the patient lives in a rural or metropolitan area. Currently, Primary Stroke Centers are not accessible for much of the population. In New Mexico, for example, the only one is at the University of New Mexico Hospital.
  • Increase capacity for rural facilities to use telehealth services by allowing IHS facilities to be reimbursed as authorized users. IHS hospitals and offices would be able to afford videoconferencing and other technology that would support chronic illness care and behavioral health.

“Evaluating and expanding telehealth services is a cost-effective way to extend health services into our remote areas while supporting rural areas and managing costs,” Udall said.