Getting quality medical treatment in America's rural communities has always been an issue in the continuing debate over health care. Every state has rural communities - regardless of how urbanized or densely populated - and access to health providers remains an obstacle in many small towns.
Statistics reveal that residents in rural communities have elevated rates of chronic disease, such as diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis. And it is estimated that 23 percent of citizens in rural areas do not have health insurance. For the numerous rural workers who are self-employed, the uninsured rate rises to 40 percent, compared to 32 percent for their urban counterparts.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) Enacted
To address these concerns, Congress enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Congress hopes the ACA will help increase quality health care availability to rural America.
In particular, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provides:
- Grants to medical schools that recruit students from rural areas, develop special rural training programs, train medical residents in community-based settings, establish primary-care residency programs in Rural Health Clinics (RHCs), and recruit and train new residents and faculty in existing facilities.
- A 10 percent bonus to physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who practice in areas designated as health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). General surgeons who perform major surgeries in HPSAs would also qualify for 10 percent bonuses between 2011 and 2016.
- A 3 percent bonus pay for home health care workers that serve in rural areas between April 1, 2010, and December 31, 2016.
- Additional bonuses to psychotherapists and reimbursement schedules for community pharmacies.
- Funds to hospitals (in rural communities that are the lowest in Medicare spending on benefits) to help protect them from financial losses and offset these low rates.
- Resources to the 340B Drug Pricing Program, which provides low cost drugs to certain facilities, to community hospitals and Rural Referral Areas.
- A health care tax credit to small businesses located in rural areas. Specifically, the ACA will provide up to 35 percent of a company's share of premiums for businesses that have 10 or fewer employees who have average annual wages of less than $25,000. (The percentage of small businesses offering employee health insurance is already up 13 percent over 2009's figure.)
Also, thanks to the new federal health care law recently passed, rural citizens will be able to take advantage of additional benefits.
Citizens will be able to obtain health insurance even if they have a pre-existing condition. Further, parents can keep their adult children on their health care plans until age 26.