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Conrad gets National Rural Health Association's lifetime legislative honor

U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota received a lifetime achievement award at a ceremony held in his honor this morning. The National Rural Health Association's Lifetime Legislative Award was presented to Conrad in the Ina Mae Rude Entrepreneur ...

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
Debt Commission member, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., speaks during a meeting of the commission on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. The National Rural Health Association's Lifetime Legislative Award was presented to Conrad on Aug. 11, 2011, in the Ina Mae Rude Entrepreneur Center at UND. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota received a lifetime achievement award at a ceremony held in his honor this morning.

The National Rural Health Association's Lifetime Legislative Award was presented to Conrad in the Ina Mae Rude Entrepreneur Center at UND.

"He has made a significant contribution to rural health," said Brad Gibbens, deputy director of the Center for Rural Health at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The award Conrad received is unique because it is not given on a regular basis, Gibbens said.

The NRHA honored Conrad for his efforts to improve Medicare reimbursement rates for rural health care providers, along with numerous other programs.

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Because of these efforts, Gibbens said, Conrad has improved healthcare access and the lives of rural Americans.

Conrad, with the assistance of former Sen. Byron Dorgan and former Rep Earl Pomeroy, is credited with creating a frontier amendment to the healthcare reform bill passed in 2010.

The amendment provided $65 million in additional funding to North Dakota's six largest hospitals and more than $50 million to offset low Medicare reimbursements.

The formulas for Medicare reimbursement are based on cost. North Dakota has lower healthcare costs than other states, and because of this, receives less in reimbursements, Conrad said.

The nation's financial deficit has some members of Congress reviewing the amendment and campaigning for its removal.

"It's on their hit list," Conrad said.

He vowed to fight for the amendment and the continuance of other programs such as the Conrad State 30 Program. Named for him, the program allows foreign physicians trained in the United States to remain in the country if they practice in rural areas. Attracting doctors to these areas is a challenge, Conrad said.

Reducing healthcare costs also is on his agenda.

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"Right now, one in six dollars is spent on healthcare in the U.S.," he said. Some experts predict that number may increase to one in three dollars as healthcare costs continue to increase he said.

"That won't work," Conrad said. "It will sink us."

Conrad also announced plans to introduce legislation later this year to extend expiring rural health provisions, make further adjustments to the Medicare reimbursement formula and establish a loan program hospitals can use to renovate their facilities.

"It will provide a boost to rural healthcare not only here but around the country," he said.

Reach Jewett at (701) 787-6736; (800) 477-6572, ext. 2736; or send email to bjewett@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: HEALTH
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