Senator John ThuneDuring the recent Easter Recess Work Period when the Senate was out of session, I had the opportunity to travel around South Dakota and meet with people in every corner of the state. I was fortunate to visit several hospitals and health care facilities across our state, and it is clear that health care is one of the top issues on the minds of South Dakotans. My visits to hospitals in Brookings, Mitchell, Freeman, Viborg, Milbank, Clear Lake, and Custer provided me better insight into the state of health care in South Dakota. These stops offered me opportunities to discuss improving the quality and affordability of health care with both health care providers and patients.
South Dakota’s rural health care providers face unique challenges from things like Medicare reimbursement, the number of uninsured patients, and limited access to specialized technologies. I am working in the Senate to address these issues, and what I have learned from South Dakota health care providers will be useful in the upcoming debate about national health care reform.
I believe that telehealth technology has the potential to vastly improve the quality of health care in rural places like South Dakota. Telehealth connects general practice doctors, surgeons, and specialists to patients in remote areas through advanced technology. Doctors are able to make diagnoses and perform procedures without requiring patients to travel great distances. This saves patients and health care providers money and time. It also allows doctors to maximize the territory they can cover, which is especially important in states like South Dakota where fewer doctors are forced to cover wide rural areas.
Health care costs are rising rapidly, and many businesses, particularly small businesses, are finding it difficult to offer health insurance as a benefit to employees. Congress should consider expanding options for families to keep their same health insurance when changing jobs. I also believe that families should be able to choose health insurance in other states, so that they are able to pick a plan that better suits their needs, regardless of where they live.
While some have proposed plans to nationalize health insurance coverage, there are many ways to make health insurance more affordable without adding more layers of government bureaucracy to an already complex system. I feel that such proposals would restrict choice and lower the quality of care.
Health care reform promises to be a contentious issue. However, reforms must reflect the needs of both providers and consumers, and I believe there are common-sense solutions, which can do just that. I look forward to working with South Dakotans and South Dakota health care providers to lower the cost of health care while improving the quality of care.