Rare disease affects people without discriminating. Disease touches the young and the old, the privileged and underprivileged. It does not discriminate based on race, income, or occupation, and it reaches people in rural areas the same as urban areas.
The House is set to consider the 21st Century Cures Act on the floor this week. Cures legislation will save lives, fight rare diseases, spur medical innovation, and set a standard of healthcare infrastructure that our nation can continue to strive for in generations to come.
When I came to Congress, I made a promise to fight for the rural priorities of the Second District of Oklahoma. I’m proud to be a cosponsor of 21st Century Cures, but I’m prouder to support legislation that helps not only the heavily populated areas of our nation, but also the most rural parts too. More than 20 percent of the country’s population lives in a rural area, and more than 33 percent of Oklahoma’s population is rural. Cures provides funding to fight the opioid epidemic, reforms mental health, grants fairer medical device rates, and increases patients’ access to medical care and treatments in rural areas – all of which directly benefit rural Americans.
In rural, eastern Oklahoma, we need Cures to combat the widespread opioid epidemic. In 2012, doctors wrote more opioid prescriptions than there were people in the state – a staggering 127 prescriptions for every 100 people. Each year, there are more accidental overdose deaths linked to opioid abuse than there are from car crashes in Oklahoma. Along with many other states battling the opioid crisis, $1 billion in federal grants will help Oklahoma fight opioid abuse by allowing the state to use the funds where they deem best suited, not where Washington thinks it would help. A bill Congress passed earlier this year, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) includes an amendment I offered that will direct funds from Cures to rural and tribal communities, as well as areas with a high number of overdose deaths.
Across the country, we need mental health reform. With the biggest mental health reform bill in over 50 years, Congressman Tim Murphy (PA-18) set out to change the entire mental health system, focusing on providing access t0 health professionals and treatment to those in need. His legislation, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, is included in the Cures legislation and has specific provisions to reach underserved and rural constituents across the country. Emphasizing telemedicine, Congressman Murphy’s bill ensures patients in rural areas are able to access mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists.
For rural Medicare patients, we need Cures to make medical devices more affordable. Included in the 21st Century Cures is the Patient Access to Durable Medical Equipment (PADME) Act, which ensures patient access to quality medical devices in rural areas. Elderly patients who can’t drive and live over 70 miles to the nearest oxygen tank supplier need these providers to have delivery services. Sometimes a supplier will have to drive three hours to deliver medical equipment to one patient. Medicare patients deserve better, and with PADME as a part of Cures, those patients will see stable rates for their medical equipment no matter where they are.
Across rural America, disease patients need Cures. Perhaps those who have the greatest struggle with disease are Americans living in rural areas. Rural patients fighting disease don’t live close enough to the specialty care that they need. Rural hospital closures and provider shortages force patients to drive hours just for a check-up. If Cures can help one researcher come up with one cure to a disease like Alzheimer’s or Cystic Fibrosis or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, maybe a patient living in eastern Oklahoma wouldn’t have to drive three hours to a specialist. They could take their medicine at home and spend more time with their family. Cures legislation takes a big step forward in helping those patients access the help they need with less travel time and less hassle in their everyday lives.
The 21st Century Cures Act helps people of all walks of life. It is an innovator for breakthrough treatments that will help patients receive the care they need in all parts of the country. Cures levels the playing field for rural and urban patients. It will deliver cutting-edge advancements to our healthcare infrastructure and life-saving innovations, pharmaceuticals, and treatments – that are broadly accessible in urban and rural areas, without discrimination. It’s time to provide healthcare legislation that drastically improves the quality of life for all patients in all parts of the nation. That time, the time for Cures, is now.