Bassett Healthcare Network Champions Healthy Rural Communities with Distinctive License Plate Legislation
Central New York's Bassett Healthcare Network has proposed innovative legislation to Albany lawmakers to provide additional funding to help overcome critical rural health disparities. The proposal is to offer a distinctive license tag option known as the Feeling Rural Good plate. Proponents pledge the unique license plate, if ultimately approved by the New York State Assembly and Senate, and if signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul, would also significantly raise public awareness about the growing crisis in rural healthcare.
Bills to authorize the aptly named Feeling Rural Good license plate have been introduced by State Senator Rachel May (S. 8616) and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara (A. 09748). The bill is moving swiftly through the Senate, where last week the Senate Transportation Committee reported it to the Senate Calendar for consideration before the full Senate. The bill is expected to pass the Senate before the close of the legislative session on June 2, 2022. In the Assembly, the bill has been referred to the Assembly Transportation Committee, where it is under consideration. Bassett and other stakeholders are working with Assembly leadership in an effort to advance the bill in the Assembly.
"Eighteen percent of New York residents live in a rural community," explains Bassett President & CEO, Dr. Tommy Ibrahim. "If New Yorkers are going to have any hope of better funding the health care priorities of our families, friends, and neighbors, then we are all going to need to find more effective and innovative ways of providing that critical financial support without relying upon severely stretched local, state and federal government funds alone."
Dr. Ibrahim notes that the Feeling Rural Good license plate would encourage more leveraged and impactful funding to reduce rural health disparities through the type of public-private-philanthropic partnerships the proposed New York tag would promote.
"My bill would provide New Yorkers with the opportunity to voluntarily direct an extra $25 a year to support more philanthropic funding for helping eliminate some of these very challenging rural health disparities in our communities," explains Senator May.
Assemblyman Santabarbara adds, "Rural communities often face many barriers to accessing health care needs. The Feeling Rural Good license plate program is a creative way to raise awareness and help us close the gaps on these long-standing issues. As Chair of the NYS Assembly's Rural Resources Commission, I've fought long and hard for more health care options in the rural areas of our state and I'll always put my support behind initiatives that can help improve access to these important services that all families deserve."
The two New York lawmakers have proposed that voluntary proceeds from the distinctive license plate go to fund key priorities under the jurisdiction of the New York Department of Health. The legislation's funding priorities would focus on 1) expansion of rural school-based health clinics in the state, 2) evidenced-based rural health-related research and education through New York-based universities, 3) enhanced physician recruitment in rural areas, 4) improved access to broadband and internet services, and 5) supplemental funding to improve access to hospital, long-term care, and home care services in rural communities.
Any qualified rural healthcare provider in the state would be eligible to apply for funding through the New York Department of Health from the Feeling Rural Good plate proceeds, assuming the distinctive license plate becomes law.
An influential coalition of state trade associations are supporting the Senate and Assembly bills. They include the Iroquois Healthcare Association, Home Care Association of New York State, New York State School-Based Health Alliance, and LeadingAge New York.
"We expect that more support will be coming for the Feeling Rural Good license plate from other groups in the near future," says Iroquois Healthcare Association President, Gary J. Fitzgerald. "Raising awareness to address the unique needs of upstate and rural health care providers is critical to finding new solutions. Iroquois welcomes Senator May's and Assembly Member Santabarbara's legislation as an effective way to accomplish that goal. Directing health care funding to rural providers is critically important to ensure New York's rural residents have ready access to the care they need," emphasizes Fitzgerald. "The Feeling Rural Good license plate would be especially effective because it is voluntarily funded, broadly supportive of rural healthcare providers, and continues to raise awareness for this worthwhile and compelling cause."
"This legislative initiative is designed to help us all 'feel rural good' about the quality of healthcare we can make available and provide in the State of New York," says Senator May. "I hope my fellow lawmakers and the Governor will agree!"
About the Crisis in Rural Health Care:
Rural healthcare disparities exist across the nation in a full array of services including, but not limited to: mental health and addiction, broadband access, workforce limitations, copays and declining reimbursements, health literacy, transportation, elder care, and more. The Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform notes that 130 rural hospitals have closed over the past decade. Nineteen closed in 2019 alone with another 20 closing in 2020. Nine hundred rural hospitals are at risk of closing in the future due to low financial reserves are deep dependence on local taxes and state grants. It is estimated that 40 percent of all rural hospitals in America are in danger of closing.