There is no shortage of stories today about healthcare in America. It’s become the center of most political discussions, and there is undoubtedly a lot of passion around the topic. And understandably so. After all, how we ultimately handle healthcare will impact all of us.

Unfortunately, patients in rural areas– where the number of uninsured patients remains significantly higher – are truly feeling the heat for a number of reasons.

 

Ongoing Funding Concerns. While it’s currently unknown whether or not new legislation will pass in coming months, the dependency on Medicare, Medicaid and other government funding within rural communities continues to translate into uncertainty. Unfortunately, as this CNN Money article spotlights, the growing level of uncertainty is resulting in insurance premium increases and putting rural hospitals at risk.

“Medicaid cuts are always hard for rural hospitals. People have less employer-sponsored coverage in rural areas and people are relying more on Medicaid and on Medicare. Since 2010, at least 79 rural hospitals have closed across the country, and nearly 700 more are at risk of closing. These hospitals serve a largely older, poorer and sicker population than most hospitals, making them particularly vulnerable to changes made to Medicaid funding.”

 

Limited Access to Care. As we have discussed previously, limited access to care within rural communities is an ongoing issue. Unfortunately, the anticipated shortage in providers will only make it worse.

“The lack of medical physicians in rural communities is an ongoing problem that is negatively affecting the nation’s healthcare system. Students who are interested in pursuing a career in healthcare often have limited access to training and education in their local area. This forces students to travel or relocate to metropolitan regions for their coursework, and many students decide to remain in these areas to pursue their healthcare profession.”

 

Growing Gap in Death Rates. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that rates of the five leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke — are higher among rural Americans. As Lena Sun writes in this Washington Post article it comes at a time when cancer rates nationwide are dropping.

“While geography alone can’t predict your risk of cancer, it can impact prevention, diagnosis and treatment opportunities — and that’s a significant public health problem in the U.S.,” said Anne Schuchat, CDC’s acting director. “Many cancer cases and deaths are preventable, and with targeted public health efforts and interventions, we can close the growing gap between rural and urban Americans.”

Sun explains that “differences in the death rates could result from disparities in access to health care and timely diagnosis and treatment, researchers concluded. A higher percentage of rural Americans are uninsured, limiting their access to preventive services covered by insurance, according to federal health data.”

 

Unfortunately, the issues facing rural healthcare continue to compound. And, without taking significant action, the results could literally be a matter of life or death for many.

This is the first in a series of articles on rural healthcare. Our goal is to take a look at the issues, discuss what actions could make a difference and ultimately spotlight the next steps.