I currently serve as the community outreach manager for the Tri-Country Health Network (TCHNetwork), which works to improve health in San Miguel, Montrose and Ouray counties, and improve overall access to affordable and quality health care in this rural region.

These issues around rural health are at the forefront of legislation in Washington right now in the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019. This bill, which is aimed at preventing surprise billing, is addressing a very important issue, but simultaneously forgetting about rural communities like ours and reducing our access to critical care.

This legislation would prevent patients from receiving a bill that they can’t afford; something that we at TCHNetwork work every day to prevent. But equally important to providing transparent and low-cost health care is having access to that care at all. Due to our remote location, it can often be over an hour drive to the nearest hospital to receive necessary medical treatment. We often have clients who require air transport, via air ambulance, for life-saving reasons.

These air ambulances provide essential access to emergency medical treatment in our rural communities. Despite our initiatives to reduce the need for emergency care, there are always medical emergencies that require treatment quicker than ground ambulances can provide and air ambulances are often our only option.

Preventing expensive billing is important, but we also need to ensure that residents of rural communities have access to critical care, including air ambulances.

Kody Gerkin