Health Reform and Rural America

10-28-09, 9:21 am

Health reform being considered in Congress now would address the special concerns of rural Americans, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters Tuesday, Oct 27th.

Introducing a new report title 'More Choices, Better Coverage,' published by her Department, Sec. Sebelius explained that health insurance reform would improve access, affordability and quality for 50 million people living in rural areas who now say health insurance is impossible or nearly impossible to afford.

About one in five uninsured people live in rural areas where poverty rates are also substantially higher than in cities, the report found.

Health reform would remedy the discrepancy in health care access by providing subsidies and tax credits to low-income people who cannot afford insurance. In addition, the creation of an insurance exchange would provide rural residents with more choices of insurance plans. Currently the strongest private market monopolies can be founding rural or mainly rural states, Sebelius pointed out. 'This means that [with reform] family farms and self-employed rural citizens can join together with negotiating power like the big guys now have.'

More choice means that the cost of premiums will be brought under control better, she added.

In addition, most workers in small businesses without insurance work in rural areas. The small business tax credits in both the House and Senate versions of the health reform bill would return as much as 50 percent of the cost of health insurance premiums to small business owners when they decide to provide coverage for themselves, their family members or other workers.

In addition to these direct benefits, other reforms contained in the health reform package will benefit workers and self-employed people, including family farm owners, in rural areas, Secretary Sebelius continued.

Right now, small business owners pay as much as an 18 percent higher rate for employee insurance. In addition, if one employee has a major health issue, the rise in costs can often price that small business out of the market. By eliminating cost-sharing for preventative measures, discrimination based on preexisting conditions and other industry reforms, small business owners will see some parity with bigger businesses in insurance costs.

Rural residents also face problems with finding doctors. 'Two-thirds of the underserved areas in the country are in rural areas,' Sebelius said. The health reform bills in both house of Congress plan to provide new subsidies for student loan repayments and scholarships for doctors, nurses, physician assistants, dentists and mental health specialists to practice in rural areas should increase the number of health care workers in rural areas.

'Health insurance reform will make sure that every American, whether they're living under a skyscraper in New York City, or on a family farm in Kansas or North carolina has access to quality, available coverage,' Sebelius said.