As we track the continuing spread of COVID-19 across the country, we are becoming increasing aware of the number of COVID-19 cases in rural America.
Today…Christopher Wells, National Program Manager of nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies, joins me to discuss the health care-related vulnerabilities of rural residents. So Chris….what can you tell us a bit about your research?
Chris. In the summer of 2019, we conducted a national survey of people age 18 to 64 and were taken aback by the findings. We found rural residents were more likely to be facing health and health care-related challenges compared with their urban and suburban counterparts. For example, the survey found only 28 percent of rural residents are very satisfied with the quality of their health care system, compared with 42 percent of urban and 32 percent of suburban residents.
Al. Interesting…..Now, I’ve recently read a study from the University of North Carolina that indicates 129 rural hospitals across the U.S. have closed since 2010, which can’t be good…..so it sounds like it’s increasingly more difficult to obtain care when needed.
Well then…what other types of barriers to health care does your survey find?
Chris. I wish that I had better news. Our survey found that rural residents are less likely to have health insurance, they are less likely to be able to afford routine health care costs, and less likely to have a primary care doctor they regularly see.
Al. Mmm…that’s a stressful situation to be in. Now many workers are typically offered health insurance through their employer……so what’s the trend look like among workers in the rural communities?
Chris. I’m glad you asked me that, Al. Rural workers are less likely to be offered health care benefits by their employers. Specifically, two in three rural workers (66 percent) are offered major medical insurance, which is lower than approximately three in four urban and suburban workers who are offered this benefit. Some good news, however, is that rural workers are similarly likely to enroll in benefits, when offered.
Al: Well Chris……you’ve painted a fairly distressing picture image of rural resident and their health care fortunes. So…what kind of advice can you offer the rural segment to improve their current situation?
Chris: Our survey report outlines a series of recommendations for rural residents. I’ll share a couple which I believe are the most important:
- First, considering the severity of the pandemic, it is imperative to take preventive measures to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19. This includes following CDC recommendations of wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, and frequently washing your hands.
- Second, if you don’t already have it and you are able to, obtain health insurance. Though coverage can be costly, it is far more expensive and potentially catastrophic to pay for care without health insurance.
On a closing note, policy makers can help by addressing the lack of medical facilities, medical professionals, and health resources in rural areas. This includes revisiting the competitive bidding process in private health care, the distribution of Federally Qualified Health Centers, and introducing better incentives for medical professionals to train and practice in rural areas.
Al: Well Chris…good to be back with you again and thank you for these important insights.
Additional information may also be found at www.TransamericaInstitute.Org.
This has been another episode of ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health and Wealth. This is Al Waller on WYPR, your NPR News Station.
Thanks for listening.