The health care gap between urban and rural America is expanding. Rural regions are seeing much higher rates of deaths from premature births, unintentional injuries, and ailments such as chronic lower respiratory disease. While the number of people who die because of cancer, heart disease, and stroke is declining across America, the rate of decline is significantly lower in rural America.
In part, America’s health care gap can be attributed to shorter-staffed health care centers. Only about 10 percent of health care providers choose to work in rural areas because of the heavy patient workload and perceived professional isolation. Some health care providers are discouraged from opening practices in rural areas because many patients are on Medicaid, which does not compensate medical providers as much as private health insurance. Others face enormous student loans and can’t afford to take a job in a rural area that doesn’t pay as much as one in a large city.
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America’s health care gap can also be attributed to inaccessibility and higher uninsured rates in rural areas. Rural Americans are 50 percent more likely to die of an unintentional traumatic injury, such as a car accident, than urban Americans. Longer transport times and faraway trauma centers lead to higher rates of victims being pronounced dead at the injury scene, in what could have been a preventable death. Increased medical infrastructure will decrease rates of death by unintentional injury and help to close the gap between rural and urban America. In addition, rural counties have higher uninsured rates than metropolitan areas, which puts financial strain on hospitals that must offer services to uninsured patients. The Affordable Care Act, which requires that everyone have insurance, has partially eased that strain.
Fortunately, recent challenges to rural health care and the benefits of the Affordable Care Act have been defeated. The American Health Care Act passed the House of Representatives but did not receive enough votes in the Senate. This health care act would have negatively affected older rural Americans the most because older Americans would pay the largest premiums but would not receive correspondingly large tax credits for more expensive insurance. We must now write stronger legislation that will successfully address America’s expanding health care gap.
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