Thursday, November 19th is National Rural Health Day. On the Thursday before Thanksgiving each year, rural Americans give thanks for our health and the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other providers that help keep us that way. In truth, most rural and small town Americans are thankful for our health, healthcare providers and the hospitals, clinics and other businesses where they work most other days as well.
Small town America faces unique healthcare challenges. Rural Americans are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured than our counterparts in urban centers, in part because rural Americans are more likely to be self-employed or working for an employer that does not offer health insurance benefits. This makes the expansion of Medicaid coverage so vitally important to working families in rural and small town America who don’t make enough money to qualify to receive subsidies for healthcare coverage in the new health insurance marketplaces (exchanges).
Moreover, access to healthcare can be a challenge in many small towns that lack a hospital or clinic. Increasing the ranks of those with adequate coverage through Medicaid expansion and the exchanges is one answer, but ingenuity must be another. As we celebrate National Rural Health Day, we should continue to look for new ways to expand rural healthcare access through telemedicine; new provider roles for physician's assistants, pharmacists, nurses and nurse practitioners; and different hospital and clinic ownership models including cooperatives, community ownership, and ownership of clinics and healthcare practices by medical service providers other than physicians.
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