Republican Congressman Cresent Hardy made a stop in Pahrump on Tuesday where he toured the town’s soon-to-be-open VA facility and met with veterans and health care stakeholders.
During a closed meeting with the town’s health care providers a week before the General Election, Hardy discussed two of the bills that he introduced earlier this year, the Rural Hospital Enhancement and Long-Term Health Act and the Graduate Opportunities in Medical Education Distribution Act, that are aimed at helping rural health care.
“These are issues that are big across the country, not just here in Nevada. But Nevada being one of the most rural places in the nation, it’s some of the biggest challenges,” Hardy said. “We have places like Mineral County that doesn’t even have a practitioner of any kind.”
Larry Farnsworth, spokesman for the Hardy campaign, said 78 hospitals across rural America have closed since 2010. That number also includes the Nye County Regional Medical Center that closed its doors in August 2015 due to a grim financial situation.
“So, we are trying to put in place a system so that we can make sure the hospitals don’t close,” Farnsworth said.
The bi-partisan rural health care bill reauthorizes the State Offices of Rural Health Grant Recovery program at $15 million per year for five years to strengthen rural health delivery. The program hasn’t been reauthorized since 1992.
Another bill that was discussed during the meeting, the Graduate Opportunities in Medical Education Distribution Act, which addresses the lack of graduate medical education opportunities in Nevada.
The federal government spends about $15 billion per year to train physicians across the United States. Seventy-eight percent of the funding for training is provided through Medicare. The top five states where these opportunities exist receive nearly half of the federal funding for graduate medical education students.
“Studies show that if we have people do the residency here, about 77-to-78 percent stay in Nevada. We are not getting that opportunity. Places like the northeast corridor – New York, Massachussets – get the majority of those slots that are Medicare-funded with people doing those residency programs,” Hardy said.
Many hospitals in Nevada could use a lot more residencies but they can’t afford to pay them from their own pocket, Hardy said. In 2014, Medicare paid for 137 residency slots in Nevada. In comparison, the top 25 states receiving Medicare funding for these GME slots averaged over 3,000 medical education slots.
The bill would create a program to reallocate unused Graduate Medical Opportunities training slots funded by Medicare to states that need physicians the most, such as Nevada. These slots were capped in 1996.
Farnsworth said Nevada has 67 physicians for every 100,000 patients.
He said about 26 percent of doctors in Nevada are aged 55-64 and 20 percent of them are 65 and older.
“There is a real potential crisis for doctor shortage in the state of Nevada,” he said.
The bill allocates 70 percent of the unused spots to states with the lowest resident-to-population ratio and the other 30 percent to programs located in the areas with the lower physician-to-population ratio.
Additionally, the bill fosters investment in new rural hospital construction, creates a new provision that would make matching grants available for building new and updating existing hospitals, and allows hospitals to receive up to $100,000 for construction or improvements.
“I think that’s going to be a great step in helping to increase the amount of doctors here in the state,” Hardy said.
“I have White Pine County (in my district) that is the furthest away from any major medical facility anywhere in the nation. They have over 200 miles in any direction they go to be able to get to a major medical (facility). They do have a good clinic in Ely, but that doesn’t solve all the issues when it comes to a medical crisis like heart issues or some other accidents,” he said.
Hardy is currently locked in a competitive race for the Nevada’s 4th Congressional District with Democrat Ruben Kihuen.
Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77