Legislative Prospectus: Rural Health
December 29, 2021
Approximately 15% of Americans live in rural areas, but these Americans often experience poorer health outcomes as compared to Americans in urban areas. According to CDC, rural Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke than urban Americans.
Characteristics of rural living contribute to some of these poor health outcomes, such as longer distances to travel to access emergency or specialty care, as well as higher rates of poverty and lower rates of health insurance.
Difficulty accessing healthcare in rural areas is also a result of workforce shortages within rural care centers. Recent studies show a lower number of physicians (both in primary care and specialties) per 100,000 people in rural areas than in urban areas.
Lower numbers of behavioral health providers in rural areas make it difficult for rural Americans to access needed behavioral health and mental health care.
Rural hospitals are essential to their communities because they offer trauma centers, provide services to vulnerable populations, and positively impact their region’s economy. When rural hospitals close, residents must travel farther to receive the same health care services.
Rural hospitals closing from financial hardship has been a persistent trend in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic forced hospitals to suspend elective procedures and reduce non-urgent services, which resulted in revenue loss and furloughed healthcare staff.
While there are a multitude of issues facing rural hospitals, states and territories have used policy to improve access to rural health services by incentivizing providers to practice in rural areas through loan repayment, improving behavioral health services, expanding telehealth options, and supporting broadband infrastructure.