One example of how that spending could help rural areas: in 2015 an addiction management center opened in Harrington, Del., with help from a $1 million low-interest USDA loan. Rural drug overdose rates have increased rapidly in recent years, surpassing the urban rate in 2006. Farmers are particularly vulnerable: a 2017 study by the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation found that almost three-fourths of farmers or farmworkers have either misused opioids or know someone who has, Fifield reports.
Maggie Elehwany, government affairs and policy vice president for the National Rural Health Association, told Fifield it makes sense for the USDA to help rural health systems, since rural hospitals are often the economic center of their communities. But Elehwany cautioned that the grants and loans won't solve chronic doctor shortages and low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.
"Rural hospitals have money problems when their patients cannot afford to pay for services and reimbursement rates are low," Fifield reports. "Since 2010, 83 rural hospitals have closed, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Elehwany wants the Farm Bill to directly support struggling rural hospitals."