On May 11, President Barack Obama declared, “I will not rest until the dream of health care reform is achieved in the United States of America.”
It is a vow rural America sincerely hopes the president can fulfill.
It won’t be easy — nearly 50 million people in rural America are either uninsured, have limited coverage or have limited access to a health care provider. The current economic downturn is contributing to the crunch.
It’s depressing when you read the statistics. Compared with urban Americans, rural residents have higher poverty rates, a larger percentage of elderly, tend to be in poorer health, and have fewer doctors, hospitals and other health resources (which means residents put off seeking treatment or help, and often escalating risks of even treatable problems like diabetes).
There’s more: Rural residents spend more on health care out of pocket (deductibles, co-insurance, co-payments and payments for uncovered services) than do urban residents.
Health care coverage hits farmers even harder because many don’t have group plan coverage and buy individual health plans. One recent survey discovered farmers in one state who purchased individual health plans spent an average of $2,117 more than those who were able to purchase through a group plan.
The Missouri Rural Crisis Center reports that many farmers in that state spend up to 15 percent of their annual income on catastrophic high-deductible health insurance, often up to $5,000.
“Insurance is a big strain on a farm family,” said one respondent in a 2007 poll of farmers in seven states. “If I have a bad year, I have to do without other essential things to pay for insurance.”
Those high costs often lead to “underinsurance,” which is masked by higher rates of overall coverage. Yes, we’re insured, but no, we’re not covered.
Interestingly, Obama was surrounded by health care players when he made his declaration earlier this week — players who had been critics of previous attempts at health care reform (remember Hillary Clinton’s treatise during her husband’s administration?). Players like hospitals, the insurance industry, medical device and pharmaceutical companies, labor, and physicians.
According to a May 11 news article in The Hill, this group gave a letter to the president suggesting ways to reduce spending (oh yeah, that’s the other part of health care reform, our tax dollars at work). (You can read a .pdf of the letter here.)
They gave no details on how they’d shave $2 trillion, but suggested simplifying the administrative process; payment reforms that encourage medical providers to collaborate; incentives to promote preventative care; and better integration of health information technology.
It’s more than just cutting costs, it’s about availability, access and quality.
Let’s hope the torch stays lit on this issue. A lot more than just our health is riding on it.