Left Behind: Health Care in Rural America | WYPR

Left Behind: Health Care in Rural America

May 25, 2020

As the number of COVID-19 cases in rural states like Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, and Idaho rise, more attention is now being focused on our rural health care system. 

Joining me is Christopher Wells, from nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies to discuss their new research report titled, Left Behind: Health Care in Rural America.

So Chris…..please share some of your findings with us. Chris. Last August, we surveyed more than 3,700 U.S. residents and found that rural residents were facing greater health and health care-related vulnerabilities than their urban and suburban counterparts. Now, I’m very concerned these issues have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and want to help raise awareness of them.

Al. So what kind of vulnerabilities are we talking about? Specifically….what disparities are you seeing between the rural, urban, and suburban residents?

Chris. Well yes, to start with we found significant disparities in health status. Our research found only 69 percent of rural residents describe themselves as being in “excellent” or “good” health, which is about 10 percent less than what is reported by urban and suburban residents. Furthermore, our survey findings suggest what appears to be systemic issues, specifically: Rural residents are less likely to be insured, less able to afford routine health care expenses like copays or deductibles, and less likely to have a primary care doctor they regularly see.

Al. Well…that’s a significant gap that needs to be addressed. What other insights of concern have you gleaned through the research?

Chris. Yes. Almost one in four rural residents (23 percent) say they don’t have any health-related priorities right now. Amid the pandemic, focusing on your health is more important than ever. One thing that we all can do to prioritize our health is wear a face covering. It may seem inconvenient, but it can help protect you from becoming infected with COVID-19, help protect your loved ones, and help prevent its spread. And there is new research behind this: estimates in a study featured in Health Affairs suggest masks possibly averted as many as 230,000 to 450,000 cases of Covid-19 in the 15 U.S. states that required them between April 8th and May 15th. As a reminder, it’s also important to continue following the CDC’s other recommendations to frequently wash your hands, avoid touching your face, maintain a social distance of six feet from others, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and for older adults and those with severe chronic conditions to stay home.

Al. Sticking to the basics….got it! Well we’re just about out of time, any parting insights that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Chris. Yes, I’ll finish with a quick comment on health technology. One of the key findings in our research is the opportunity for rural populations, when possible, to use mobile health technology and telemedicine. Our survey findings indicate this technology may be underutilized and has the potential to be a game-changer, especially in areas where broadband internet access is available.

Al: Well thanks for joining us, Chris…..thats a great point to end on. And….more information can also be found at www.TransamericaInstitute.Org.

This has been another episode of ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health and Wealth. Until the next time, this is Al Waller on WYPR, Your NPR News Station. Thanks for listening.