DULUTH (AP) -- Gov. Jesse Ventura and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson pledged Wednesday to work toward improving life in rural America.
Thompson said within 90 days his agency will produce an "action plan" for improving health care and social services for the nation's 54 million rural residents.
"Rural America has been, I think, underutilized and underserved, and we can do better," Thompson told the people from 47 states and 15 countries gathered in Duluth for a Joint International Summit on Community and Rural Development.
Thompson said that his agency will announce Friday an increase in Medicare reimbursements for nursing homes. He spoke from Washington, D.C., appearing on screens via an Internet connection.
Dianne McSwain, a rural specialist in Thompson's department, said rural nursing homes have been reimbursed less because government has perceived their costs to be lower.
Thompson also said he'll work to raise Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to rural hospitals and improve their access to capital for improvements. He said many emergency workers in rural areas, who are often volunteers, need more government help with training.
Ventura told members of the rural summit that his administration already has helped farmers, business owners and other rural residents through reforming the tax system, marketing rural Minnesota to businesses, investing more in affordable housing and streamlining the state's system for helping the unemployed find new careers and jobs.
He said those efforts must continue and that more needs to be done, including extending fast, reliable Internet and other telecommunications services to all corners of the state. That concern was echoed by Thompson, who said rural hospitals need better telecommunications systems to give them better access to data and expert advice.
"We shouldn't let another year go by without reforming our telecommunications laws," Ventura said. "The future of our rural communities is clearly at stake."
The governor said government help should focus on helping rural regions adapt to new market forces and changing times, not subsidizing relics of an outdated economy.
"We must stay focused, we must work hard, and we must not be afraid of the forces of change," Ventura said.
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