Access to healthcare more difficult for rural Americans

Wed Jul 27, 2011 2:55pm EDT
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By Molly O'Toole

WASHINGTON (Reuters Life!) - Rural Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart problems and cancer, and face greater difficulty getting quality healthcare than their urban counterparts, according to a report released Wednesday.

The challenges facing healthcare providers for rural areas could be compounded by recent healthcare legislation, according to the UnitedHealth Center for Health & Reform Modernization.

"This is kind of an opportunity," UnitedHealth chair and report author Simon Stevens told Reuters. "Expanding coverage will mean that more people will have the ability to access care than before, but it's also a wake-up call."

The Center projects that around 8 million more rural residents will join Medicaid, state and government-subsidized insurance plans in the national coverage expansions than would have otherwise -- a net expansion of some 5 million people.

The paper found that there are only 65 primary care physicians per 100,000 rural Americans -- 40 or so less than the 105 per 100,000 urban and suburban Americans.

Already five million rural residents live in "shortage areas" defined by the federal government as counties with less than 33 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents. The number is continuing to decrease.

Per capita in rural areas there is less than half the number of surgeons and other specialists.

A survey that was part of the study found that among roughly 3,000 patients and primary physicians queried nationwide, those from rural areas were more likely to respond that drug abuse and teen pregnancy are major concerns than were those from urban areas.   Continued...

<p>Duane Michelson, 90, and his daughter Darla Shultz, 49, watch television at Shultz's home in Independence, Iowa, July 6, 2011. Shultz has recently taken on the responsibility of taking care of her father as his health has started to decline in an effort to keep him at home and out of a nursing home. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>