Friday, July 25, 2014

07/07/2014 at 8:50am

Maine Rural Health Research Center Rural residents with private insurance are more likely to purchase high-deductible health plans (HDHP) than urban residents. The percentage of private-insurance customers with high-deductible plans are shown in red; the percentage of residents with other private insurance are shown in blue.

Rural residents are more likely to purchase high-deductible health insurance plans, which could compromise the care that some residents receive, a new study has found.

Using data from the 2007-2010 National Health Interview Survey, researchers at the University of Southern Maine found that almost 23% of rural residents purchased high-deductible plans, while only 20% of their urban counterparts did.

The more rural the county, the more likely residents were to purchase high-deductible plans, the study showed. More than a quarter of people living in rural counties that were not adjacent to a metro area had high-deductible plans.

Rural residents were more likely to purchase such plans because there is a greater concentration of the groups who prefer this type of insurance in rural areas, the study said. Nationally, people who purchase high-deductible plans tend to be white, lower income and married.

When researchers factored in the demographic differences, rural and urban areas chose high-deductible plans at about the same rate.

The study used data from before the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The act’s requirements that many residents get private insurance could cause another spike in the purchase of high-deductible plans, the study said.

“The ACA has the potential to greatly expand health insurance coverage for many rural Americans,” the study said. “However, the impact on access to health care may depend, in part, on the benefit design of the plans into which rural residents enroll.”

07/03/2014 at 5:53am

The Praha boys lay in the cemetery beside the Church of St. Mary’s Assumption

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we head into Independence Day weekend, we thought it appropriate to acknowledge the disproportionately high level of military service among rural Americans. This piece by James Moore looks at Praha, Texas, a small community southeast of Austin, which lost nine of its young men during a 12-month period in World War II. In 2008 the Daily Yonder also covered the annual Veterans Day observance in Praha.

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“It gave you a part in something that you could believe in wholly and completely and in which you felt an absolute brotherhood with the others who were engaged in it. It was something that you had never known before but that you had experienced now and you gave such importance to it and the reasons for it that your own death seemed of complete unimportance; only a thing to be avoided because it would interfere with the performance of your duty.”

-- Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

They no longer exist. And even in the Texas farm country where they were boys, their names are slipping from memory. People who live among the green hills here are hardly more likely to know about Praha’s loss than the strangers who travel the dark farm-to-market roads in their pickups and minivans, taking scenic detours on their way to Houston or San Antonio. This is understandable. Being told the factual history does not make the truth about Praha more believable. A trip, however, to the church and cemetery at Praha will leave the visitor carrying away a distinctly American heartache.

Visitors traveling to Praha for Memorial Day or Veterans Day approach from the north, noticing first the stark, white steeple of the parish church, which hovers brightly over the landscape. The blacktop of FM 1295 runs south off of U.S. Highway 90, directly at the Church of St. Mary’s Assumption. Close to the cemetery, the pavement curls back deferentially to the west and infrequent traffic passes quietly, the distant hiss of wheels on asphalt insufficient to disturb the serenity of a spot many U.S. military veterans have come to view as almost holy.

Praha provides old soldiers a measurement of sorts for concepts like the price of freedom. There is, though, something incalculable, impossible to assess or even understand, about the sad history of Praha. Today, it is little more than a ghost of a town with only about two dozen residents. The New Handbook of Texas claims the population never surpassed 100 people during the 20th century. Those numbers are where the anguish begins in Praha’s tearful truth.

The curious and the proud often come here and stand in front of the nine graves in a state of near bewilderment. There, they try to comprehend how war’s bloody arm could reach this far, gather up this much life and destroy it. By the dates on their tombstones and the locales of the deaths, the Allied offensive against the Nazis, Mussolini and the Japanese is recorded in the destinies of these nine fallen farm boys. Little Praha was not protected from World War II by statistical improbabilities.

PFC Robert Bohuslav Pfc. Robert Bohuslav died Feb. 3, 1944, in Italy when a shell exploded on his position where he was dug in and fighting. Three more sons of Praha went down in France, beginning the week after D-Day. The War Department sent notices of death to the families of Pfc. Rudolph L. Barta, June 16; 1944; Pfc. George D. Pavlicek, July 7, 1944; and Pfc. Jerry B. Vaculik, July 23, 1944. In Italy, Pfc. Adolph E. Rab became a casualty of war two days after Christmas 1944. Pvt. Joseph Lev, shot in the stomach during the attack of Luzon Island, died July 24, 1944. Pfc. Anton Kresta Jr.’s life ended in that same tropical theater on Feb. 12, 1945. On Sept. 7, 1944, Pvt. Eddie Sbrusch was lost at sea in the Pacific. Nineteen days later, Pfc. Edward J. Marek died in battle at Pelelieu Island. All their lives were lost, ironically, as an Allied victory appeared inevitable.

In the space of 12 months and nine days, Praha gave up most of its youth – and nearly all of its future – to confront unimaginable forms of evil on faraway continents.

07/02/2014 at 6:10am

U.S. Census BlogA Census chart shows the sources of revenue and categories of spending for public-school funding. This  chart uses 2009-2010 national data. Dollars are expressed in billions

Every community has a cafe, tavern, gas station or other gathering spot where you can get schooled in all things local. The usual crowd may be a reliable source of information about the weather, upcoming events and aged neighbors who could use a little help. But when it comes to school finance, you might want to check their facts.

Misinformation about school funding issues spreads faster than an STD. Unfounded rumors are passed along even by smart people who have no ill intentions. And you can hardly blame someone for repeating the most reliable information at their disposal. But you might end up blaming yourself if you repeat those rumors without first finding out how much is true.

That’s not always easy. Each state has its own way of raising and allocating funding for education. There are few universal truths, and every proposal that would make the “best” use of resources for some students comes at a cost to others. In my home state of Wisconsin, a controversial school voucher program designed to benefit low-income urban students is widely seen as costing rural students to benefit private enterprise. But the problems of scarce resources and imperfect allocation are everywhere, despite the best intentions of school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and taxpayers across the country.

And there’s no way to put off decisions on rural school budget issues until everything is black-and-white and everyone is in agreement. So as voters, we have to learn how to get the most reliable information possible to make informed choices – choices that may or may not be in line with those of your family, friends and neighbors.

My own understanding of school funding issues is imperfect. But I’ve learned a few things about how to get the information I need to make decisions without alienating every one of my neighbors. I’ve had some very good role models for this. These are people who come down on both sides of the political fence. Here’s what I’ve learned from them about how to ask questions before casting a vote on school funding issues.

Find out what exactly is the ballot issue? Ballot measures are published in multiple ways before an election to give voters time to ask questions based on the specific language of the proposal. In Wisconsin, a town or village may post notices in at least three locations if there is no local newspaper, and posting can be used to supplement publication. Look on the bulletin boards at your clerk’s office, post office, school office and other gathering spots for the sample ballot notice. In Wisconsin, a referendum notice includes an explanatory statement that describes the effect of a “yes” or “no” vote.

Underline key words in the proposal. It helps me to read a proposal aloud asking myself, “Why were these specific words and phrases chosen, and what do they mean?” Then I can look them up to start to get an idea what they mean before I embarrass myself with questions that are way off base. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards provides a helpful set of definitions in its publication School Finance 101.

Take each proposal at face value. It’s hard to resist the urge to vote in response to the last election. But each time we go to the polls we vote on what’s on that ballot. That’s not to say forget about the path that led your community to a particular vote. But be clear about what the issue is at a given time – in the voting booth and in the cafe booth.

For example, at one time, school referendums were mostly used to let the community decide on a costly construction project. Now, though, more rural voters are seeing ballot measures that decide on funding for operational expenses. Operational referendums can affect whether a district can meet its day-to-day expenses, including heat, transportation and whether the district will have to cut staff. In some areas, there’s nervous talk about bankruptcy and closing when an operational referendum is on the ballot.

07/01/2014 at 6:08am

Of the 7.3 million uninsured residents who live in rural areas (middle bar), 65% live in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid. Nationally (left bar), the figure is only 52%.

Rural residents who don’t have medical insurance are disproportionately affected by state decisions not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, reports a Kaiser Family Foundation research brief.

About two-thirds of uninsured rural residents currently reside in states that have not implemented Medicaid expansion. Nationally, 52% of uninsured Americans live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid.

That means rural residents are more likely than average to live in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid.

Across the nation, 47.3 million residents lacked medical insurance in 2013, the study found. The percentage of the population that lacked insurance was about the same in both rural and urban areas, 18%.

But because uninsured rural residents are more likely to live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid coverage, they face special challenges, the study says. They are more likely to fall in the “coverage gap” – where they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for tax credits to purchase private insurance.

The study shows 15% of nonelderly rural uninsured fall in the coverage gap, while only 9% of their urban counterparts do.

06/30/2014 at 9:42am

Most of us have heard about the big legal fights in the agricultural sector over patented seeds. But unbeknownst to some, similar patent disputes are occurring over technology like our treasured smart phones. The effect on rural America could be profound.

Seventy percent of urban households, compared to 57 percent of rural households, have broadband service, according to a 2010 Department of Commerce report. As a result, a greater percentage of rural residents use smart phones and wireless to gain access to the Internet.  For many, it is their only option. The phones are their connection to government and emergency services, to education and health resources.

Ed Luttrell

So ensuring that smart phones are available and affordable is important for rural Americans.

That’s why the National Grange is concerned about a patent lawsuit that Apple Inc. filed against Samsung. A jury recently awarded Apple $399 million in damages for intellectual property violations. Samsung smart phones were infringing on several Apple patents, the court said.

The ruling said Samsung must pay Apple 100% of Samsung’s profits from the sale of the devices that infringed on Apple’s patents.

 The jury’s verdict grossly overcompensates Apple. A hypothetical example explains why. 

06/27/2014 at 3:35pm

Dwight Yoakam sings about the hard choice of leaving your home in "Readin', Rightin' and Rt. 23." 

Should we stay or should we go?

It’s hard to tell from reading the New York Times.

In a magazine piece titled “The Problem with Eastern Kentucky,” Annie Lowrey says mountain residents should hit the road to find better economic opportunity. She argues that safety-net and anti-poverty programs are actually hurting the economy in the long run, because they don’t encourage mobility.

But Monica Davey reports from Detroit in a Times’ news story that the Motor City “desperately needs to hold onto residents.” The reason: to keep the city viable by retaining a critical mass of population.

The pieces are like night and day.

In the story on rural Kentucky, Lowery argues that government poverty-reduction programs hurt people by encouraging them to remain in a distressed area. From Detroit, Davey reports on the efforts of public entities to lessen the burden of home foreclosures and tax liens. There’s not a whiff of disagreement from any quarter –what Detroit needs most is for people to stay where they are.

So why do two stories, both covering the topic of economic distress, both dealing with migration, printed within days of each other in the Times, focus on such different solutions to the problem?

Gee, let me think.

Could it have something to do with the fact that Detroit is urban and Eastern Kentucky is rural?

06/27/2014 at 5:35am

Awesome teen Raquel Redshirt figured out a way to make a solar oven out of cheap and readily-available parts.

Having grown up on New Mexico’s Navajo Nation, teen Raquel Redshirt is familiar with the problems of living below the poverty line and being miles from the nearest store. Many of her neighbors have no electricity, so cooking is a challenge. Looking to find a solution, she started doing research about solar ovens. Commercial ovens use costly materials, so Redshirt started making her own solar ovens out of a cheap, readily-available material: Aluminum foil.

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The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote at its July meeting on a process for awarding funds under a new stream of support for rural broadband projects.

The FCC released its preliminary agenda for its July 11 meeting last week.

Back in February, the commission voted to set aside some of the surplus of the Connect America Fund to support work by rural broadband providers that hadn’t been previously eligible for the support. The money will pay for pilot projects to help the FCC learn what approaches work best for expanding broadband service in rural areas.

At its July meeting, the FCC will vote on a process for reviewing the competitive proposals from broadband groups.

More than 1,000 organizations and individuals responded to a February request from the FCC to gauge interest in a new grant program for rural broadband deployment. An FCC officer called the response from the field “astounding.”

Also at the July 11 meeting, the tentative agenda says the FCC will vote on a proposal to change the E-Rate program, which subsidizes school systems for Internet access.

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Legislators from rural districts in Massachusetts are in a difficult place when it comes to the state’s newly proposed gun violence bill. The leadership is clearly pushing them to support the bill, but their rural constituents are pushing back.

"This is a classic case of leadership's desires clashing with district-based realities," said Matt Barron, a Democratic political consultant with MLB Research Associates in Chesterfield. "Rural gun owners like me are tired of being scape-goated for the problems of urban violence. There are no murders in Chesterfield, there are no drive-by shootings in the Hilltowns."

Legislators also know that supporting the bill now will lead to more opponents in their 2016 election.

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Farmers are resisting big companies that want free access to farmers’ data about planting and harvests. But a Reuters article says the deck is still stacked in favor of companies like Monsanto’s Climate Corp. and John Deere that dominate the ag data market.