Rural health task force ready to ‘bombard’ lawmakers with bills

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square

A task force focused on rural health disparities met Thursday to discuss progress over the last year and plans to take action following legislative approval for another year.

Karen Wyble, chair of the Health Disparities in Rural Areas Task Force, highlighted minor changes in House Concurrent Resolution 100 approved by lawmakers in the 2023 session to reauthorize the group’s work and legislation passed to support it at a meeting in Baton Rouge on Thursday.

“Our next step is to identify which findings are the most prevalent for us … look at those disparities and talk about … what do we need to do different in the Legislature,” Wyble said. “This year we are going to be actually bombarding them with bills in hopes that we’ll get some of them passed.”

The resolution added two new members to the expansive task force, one from the Clinicians of Color Workgroup and another from the Louisiana Managed Medicaid Association, with a mandate to produce a report of findings and recommendations by Feb. 1, 2024.

The focus is “to identify and study key health issues affecting rural areas and develop strategies to improve health outcomes for rural and under-served communities,” according to the HCR 100.

“This year we have a call to action,” Wyble said. “We’re actually going to be executing and looking at the current bills that the Legislature put out in this session.”

The resolution points to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that shows overall health outcomes for Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are far worse than for white residents, particularly in rural areas that comprise roughly 89% of Louisiana.

More than 1.2 million Louisianans, or about 26%, live in rural communities and all but one parish is classified as health professional shortage areas according to federal Health Resources and Services Administration standards.

Wyble reviewed numerous bills and resolutions approved by lawmakers in 2023 to address issues raised by the task force over the last year, including efforts to address the state’s high number of smokers, new taxes on vaping, increased midwife Medicaid reimbursements, maternity support services for doulas, $15 million for cancer research, reforms to drug programs and new testing requirements for sickle cell anemia, among many others.

“These bills … part of what we’re going to be doing is following up to see the progress on these, where they’re going and next steps,” Wyble said.

Over the coming months, the task force plans to review a playbook produced last year to identify further potential legislation, consult with experts and meet with indigenous and minority populations to understand specific needs to incorporate.

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