Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sides are still debating how the health-care reform law will affect rural America

West Virginia health officials say their state stands to benefit from several of the elements of the new national health reform law because of its rural nature. "As a rural state, West Virginia will receive a major influx of dollars for preventative medical care" under the law, Kate Long of The Charleston Gazette reports. "This will prevent a lot of unnecessary hospital and emergency room bills," Louise Reese, director of the West Virginia Primary Care Association, told Long."We are gearing up to expand affordable preventative care in underserved areas of the state." (Could you ladies please say "preventive"? --Editor)

Long lists several rural-centric elements of the law, including a $11 billion investment for expansion of low-cost community health centers, $1.5 billion to support doctors in paying off their student loans in exchange for practicing in underserved rural areas, increased funding for medical school residencies in rural areas and expansion of Medicaid eligibility to those who make less than 133 percent of poverty level. (Read more)

Of course, not everyone shares the same view of the law's effect on rural America. Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is working to restore what he calls "rural health care equity" to the Senate consideration of the House-approved changes, Matt Kelley of Radio Iowa reports. "The issue is how Medicare is going to calculate payments to physicians and unfairly penalize rural doctors, making it harder for rural Medicare beneficiaries to find a doctor," Grassley told Kelley. Grassley said his amendment to the original bill was undermined by language that provided extra help to so-called "frontier states" Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah.

Kentucky Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler told John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader he voted against the law because, among other things, "rural hospitals might be hurt by a cut in payments they receive for providing indigent care."

Update 3/24: On average the 34 Congressional Democrats who voted against the health care reform bill represent more rural districts than Democrats who voted for the bill. The rural population of the Democratic no-voters’ districts was nearly 39 percent, while yes-voters' districts were only 14 percent rural, Julie Ardery and Bill Bishop report for The Daily Yonder. The Yonder story also includes a chart breaking down the rural percentage of each district from the 34 Democrat no-votes and the map below which shows how each of the 100 most rural congressional districts voted. (Read more)

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