ND Might Explore Program to Address Health Access Issues

Mike Moen

BISMARCK, N.D. -- A Legislative committee recently heard testimony on a way to improve health-care access and outcomes in North Dakota.

Supporters of a resolution want the state to study the idea of deploying community health-care workers.

Those calling for the idea say these workers can serve as liaisons in medically underserved areas.

According to recent U.S. News and World Report rankings, North Dakota was 33rd in the nation in terms of overall health care access. The report looked at factors such as affordability, wellness visits, and insurance enrollment.

Miranda Furchner, an emergency medical technician, testified before the Senate Human Services Committee in favor of the resolution.

"Working hand-in-hand with medical providers, community health workers connect patients with proactive and preventive care," Furchner explained. "This helps reduce re-admittance rates to hospitals and emergency rooms."

She pointed out workers often live in the neighborhoods they serve, which helps to establish trust among residents, while limiting the need to travel long distances for care.

Nearly 30 other states have such programs.

The resolution's sponsor noted such workers have long existed in tribal areas across the country through federal funding. Some state-level programs elsewhere rely on Medicaid reimbursements or foundational grants.

Melissa Hauer, general counsel and vice president for advocacy at the North Dakota Hospital Association, also spoke in favor of exploring the idea.

She argued there are a number of models/a> elsewhere in the country that could be examined, while noting providers around the state tout the potential benefits.

"We think it could be a great way to increase access to health-care services and reduce costs and just improve people's health," Hauer testified.

According to recent U.S. News and World Report rankings, North Dakota was 33rd in the nation in terms of overall health care access. The report looked at factors such as affordability, wellness visits, and insurance enrollment.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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