New healthcare laws have created a whirlwind in the health industry, confusing and frustrating many people in the process. The Affordable Care Act has initiated a revolutionary movement across the United States, requiring everyone to buy into some form of health coverage or pay an annual penalty. Many Americans, who were previously uninsured, are now covered for health care services. America has taken bold steps at decreasing disparities and increasing health equity nationwide. This has not been more evident than in rural counties like ours.
Rural Americans face challenges that are oftentimes perplexing for those living in urban centers. When grocery stores and basic health services are in close proximity to your home, it is hard to relate to a rural lifestyle. However, it is normal for people living in counties off the beaten path to take an entire day off work to travel and receive even the most basic care. Not only is it not economical but it is generally inefficient.
Health equity is the belief that everyone has a fair opportunity to live a long, health life, a belief most Americans would certainly agree with. Geographic location, income, gender, ethnicity and other personal distinctions should not be disadvantages to reaching this goal. However, rural life and health equity often do not go hand in hand.
There are many reasons why health services are lacking in small-town USA. The urge for urbanization is pushing people towards areas with more job opportunities making it hard for medical centers to retain their clinicians in small rural towns. In poverty stricken areas it is often noted that some clinics do not accept insurances such as Medicaid and CHP+ for those living at the poverty line. Or perhaps it is the opposite, clinics are accepting these plans but do not have enough clinicians on staff to serve their community. In either circumstance it is difficult for rural health centers to operate in the face of much adversity.
Although the Affordable Care Act was a revolutionary step for American healthcare there needs to be recognition that Americans are still facing many challenges when it comes to getting the proper care that they need. Health disparities will always exist to some degree but until we start making a true push for communities without a voice, very little can change in regards to access to medical services in rural America.
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This post was written by Erich Lange, Program Analyst at Tri-County Health Network.