Rural Health Care Put Out to Pasture

You’re supposed to get an annual check-up, see the dentist twice per year, and, if you have eyes like mine, visit the eye doctor once per year.

If you live in a metropolitan area or even a semi-metropolitan area, this is not a hard task. You are surrounded by a plethora of health-care providers who can see you to cure your latest ailment. In an emergency, you can practically choose your hospital based on its specialty.

But in rural America, the health-care options are sparse. Some people live miles and miles from the nearest health-care provider and an emergency can mean a very long trip to the nearest hospital.

That makes critical access hospitals in rural areas very important. For many of the 15 percent to 20 percent of Americans in rural areas, these hospitals are just about the only place anywhere remotely close to home where they can get health-care.

A health-care system in Kentucky is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rule that would make Medicaid payments to hospitals caring for large numbers of poor patients a tax refund that would reduce their Medicare reimbursement. This could be extremely problematic for the hospitals, as I described in Rural Hospitals Seek High Court Relief in Medicare Case.

Many of these hospitals rely on government programs to pay them in order to make ends meet. One hospital that initially was part of the lawsuit has already gone out of business.

If these hospitals fail, the real victims are the patients. Trips to get quality health-care services could get longer. Survivable emergencies could turn deadly.

We already have a rural health problem in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of the five leading causes of death in the U.S. are higher in rural America than elsewhere in the country.

A good friend of mine is in medical residency on a government scholarship to focus solely on rural health. Why? Because rural America needs doctors.

But those doctors need clinics and hospitals in which to work. The last thing we need to be doing is forcing them out of business.

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