Over 425 rural health advocates came to Washington, DC, from January 26-28, 2009, to educate their elected officials about the importance of rural health and prepare for an exciting year of change. With a new Administration, pending economic recovery legislation, and anticipated full-scale health care reform, the 20th Annual Rural Health Policy Institute was an exhilerating 3 days.
In addition to policy and political discussion and conversations, attendees had the opportunity to go to Capitol Hill and discuss the nation's future with their lawmakers. NRHA members told lawmakers: "Change must come to rural, too." They also discussed important rural health provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, helping to secure one of the largest investments in rural health in generations.
Participants heard from a number of prominent lawmakers, including Senator Tom Harkin, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Blanche Lincoln, Congressman Earl Pomeroy, and Congressman Pete Stark. Officials from the Centers from Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Health Services Administration briefed attendees on how their agencies might impact rural communities in light of the coming changes.
NRHA also added a new event at the Policy Institute this year - a Tribute to Rural Veterans Luncheon. This special event featured Kara Hawthorne, Director of the Veterans Administration Office of Rural Health, and Hilda Heady, a past-president of NRHA and rural veterans expert. For more information about rural veterans, click here.
Before we adjourned, PI attendees enjoyed a reception at the beautiful U.S. Botanic Garden and networked with their peers, as well as Members of Congress and Congressional staff. On Wednesday morning, Senator Blanche Lincoln hosted participants at the new Capitol Visitors Center to introduce the Rural Health Compact, a declaration by our champions on Capitol Hill that before comprehensive health reform can occur, the rural health care safety net must first be prevented from crumbling.
As you can tell, the Policy Institute is a great opportunity to be involved in health policymaking. It is also a great opportunity to network with other rural health advocates. If you did not make it in 2009, make sure to mark your calendar for the 21st Annual Rural Health Policy Institute January 25-27, 2010.