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Rep. Finkenauer visits Marshalltown hospital, talks new bill

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, center, discusses a bill she is helping lead aimed at increasing the number of physicians practicing in Iowa.

U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer is helping introduce legislation meant to curb physician shortage in hospitals across Iowa and the United States.

The Conrad State 30 and Physicians Act is aimed at increasing Medicare reimbursements to rural communities like many in Iowa and on making it easier for international doctors to practice in underserved communities.

“We are seventh from the bottom in the amount of reimbursements we get from Medicare. What that means is our hospitals are always trying to do more with less,” Finkenauer said. “The federal level must step up and create some equity here when it comes to states like Iowa that are more rural and make sure that our providers and our patients are getting what they deserve and what they need to be able to attract physicians here.”

She said prospective doctors may overlook areas with low Medicare reimbursements for financial reasons, leaving Iowa and other mostly rural states vulnerable to doctor shortages.

“I just had a full committee this week on small business where we talked about exactly this, about making sure that we’re getting providers in these areas when their pay may be less because of those lower Medicare reimbursements and just trying to create that equity,” Finkenauer said. “It’s something that’s been proposed for years now at the federal level, but it’s time we get it done.”

Another part of the bill is aimed at extending the Conrad 30 Waiver program, which allows doctors from outside the U.S. who got their training in America to practice in medically-underserved areas for at least three years.

The current law requires that such doctors return home for two years before they are allowed to apply for a new visa or green card to return to the U.S. and continue practicing.

UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown President Jenni Friedly said she supports both the reimbursement and waiver provisions in the proposed legislation. She said Marshalltown and other mid-sized Iowa communities are “tweener” areas that are sometimes considered rural and sometimes considered urban when it comes to medical programs.

“I think the concerns are really for the ‘tweener or rural hospitals and how do we provide sustainable health care to the community, because all of the ‘tweeners in the state are really at this point of not being able to continue to provide all the services to the community,” Friedly said. “We have this middle space that we’re not going to be able to provide the same amount of health care services if we don’t address reimbursement.”

She said she also thinks the expanded Conrad 30 program could help improve the doctor shortage situation in the state.

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Contact Adam Sodders at 641-753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com