Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would reauthorize the J-1 visa waiver program allowing foreign-born doctors to work in the rural U.S., and a separate bill would extend cost-based Medicare reimbursement to outpatient services at some rural hospitals. Under the J-1 program, foreign-born doctors who studied in the U.S. may remain in the country if they work in underserved areas. Otherwise, the doctors would be required to return to their homelands for two years before being eligible to practice in the U.S. The program, created in 1994, is set to expire June 1, after being renewed for two years in 2002. Sponsored by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the legislation would reauthorize the program for five more years.
The second rural healthcare bill would expand a pilot program offering cost-based reimbursement to rural hospitals with up to 50 beds to include outpatient services, as well as inpatient care. The bill was introduced by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.); a companion bill has not been introduced in the House. The latest efforts to improve rural healthcare come as the Center for Rural Health Practice at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford published a research agenda for bridging the gap between rural and urban health status. Despite efforts to increase access to care, rural residents remain less healthy than the general population, the center said. Read the report.-- by Tony Fong and Julie Piotrowski