Rural Seniors and the Affordable Care Act

The Center is just about to release a report, Seniors and the Affordable Care Act, looking at how the new law affects seniors in rural communities. Of note, many of the reported ‘issues’ with health insurance exchanges won't have a direct impact on them.

But one need only look at rural demographics to know why seniors have much at stake in the new law. According to the 2010 Census, 19% of rural county residents in Great Plains states are 65 or older. Most rural areas of the Great Plains and Midwest are increasingly aging.

Nebraska’s rural counties are home to about 41% of the state’s total population, but contain nearly 2/3 of the state’s 65 years and older population. In many rural counties at least 1 in 4 residents are 65 or older. Most of Nebraska’s rural counties are included in a group of Midwestern and Great Plains rural counties that witnessed the highest increase in median age from 2000 to 2010.

With increased attention focused on the Affordable Care Act and its operation, and seniors making up one of the largest population cohorts in rural areas, it is reasonable many of those rural seniors are asking, What does the ACA mean for me? Most of the provisions of the law directly affecting seniors have been in effect since 2010. And other provisions coming now into effect have no bearing on seniors.

The Affordable Care Act provides a variety of benefits to seniors without imposing additional health insurance coverage obligations. The ACA provides seniors enhanced benefits in terms of wellness and preventive care and referrals to needed specialists. This will be important for rural communities, as we have greater percentages of senior citizens as residents than do urban centers. Rural residents also generally receive fewer medical screenings and preventive care procedures. The ACA also provides seniors continuing benefits directed at paying the costs of their prescription drugs.

It also appears that, despite early warnings, Medicare Advantage plans have not been negatively affected by the ACA in terms of access and enrollment. Despite a modest reduction in the number of Medicare Advantage plans, almost all seniors – including rural seniors – continue to have access to Medicare Advantage plans. And rather than declining, the number of seniors enrolling in Medicare Advantage plans is increasing beyond original estimates.

Rural seniors should not be apprehensive about the Affordable Care Act. They do not have to concern themselves with the health insurance marketplaces, the largest and, so far, most complicated piece of the law. And the ACA provisions from which seniors can benefit are becoming systematized in their day-to-day Medicare health care.

Download a copy of our new report - Seniors and the Affordable Care Act here.