The diversity of Arkansas’s landscape makes the Natural State a truly unique environment. We can be proud of the resources that exist in our state that support a wide range of industries, interests and jobs. An important aspect of our state’s makeup is its rural identity. In the 2010 census, 44 percent of Arkansas’s population identified as rural compared to 19 percent of the entire nation. We must keep our rural communities in mind as we create policies to improve the lives of all Americans.
Arkansans deserve access to quality and affordable health care no matter where they live. Unfortunately, in recent years, rural hospitals and clinics have reduced services or eliminated them entirely because of the costly burdens of Obamacare. It’s important that Congress consider the challenges facing health care in rural America. That’s why I recently joined my colleagues in sending a letter to the Trump administration urging the President to implement policies to improve and strengthen access to health care in rural communities.
We’ve made progress on health care access for veterans in rural areas. In 2014, Congress passed, and the president signed, legislation reforming access to health care services for our veterans. One of the highlights of the law is that veterans can see non-VA providers if they live 40 miles or more from a VA health facility. This ensures more veterans have access to timely, reliable and dependable health care. I am committed to continuing to improve this benefit our veterans earned.
New models for health care delivery include telehealth. This is an innovative approach that is helping to meet the needs of rural Arkansans by using technology like video conferencing and the internet to deliver quality patient care. A key component for this method is access to high-speed broadband internet service.
The internet has become an essential tool for how we communicate and conduct business but a digital divide exists in Arkansas and much of rural America. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Broadband Progress Report released last year shows that 25 percent of Arkansans don’t have access to broadband. For those people who do have access, they lack adequate internet speed.
Access to quality, high-speed internet has quickly become the cornerstone of a prosperous economy and is the backbone for economic innovation. As a leader of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I'm determined to extend this service to all Arkansans, regardless of where they live. That’s why we must include it as part of infrastructure discussions and support its expansion. I was proud to join members of the caucus in sending a letter to the president urging him to prioritize policies that will promote deployment of high-speed, reliable broadband for all Americans as part of any infrastructure initiative.
As we shape policies for the future, we must consider the well-being of rural communities. I am proud to support the needs of rural Arkansas and will continue to advocate for solutions that provide opportunities for rural communities to succeed.