Roundup: Cost of Rural Health Insurance

Rural residents paying more for insurance, NY Times reports • Google gives $2 million grant to rural broadband project • Colorado secession faces local opposition • Rural Virginia voters not backing GOP candidate at usual levels.

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Lack of Competition Raises Rural Insurance Prices. Lack of competition among health insurers in rural areas means rural residents will pay more for health insurance than metropolitan residents, a New York Times report says.

The Times looked at Health and Human Services data on insurers and insurance prices in each U.S. county (in the 34 states where the federal government is managing the health-insurance exchanges). They found that rural counties had fewer insurance providers. And they found that rates in those rural counties were higher than for metropolitan counties.

Rural counties are more likely to have only one insurance-company option, or possibly two. When the number of competitors rises to three, insurance premiums go down in price markedly, the story reports.

“For example, in Wyoming, two insurers are offering plans at prices that are higher than in neighboring Montana, where a third carrier is seen as a factor in keeping prices lower,” write Reed Abelson, Katie Thomas and Joe Craven McGinty for the Times.

Another example from the Times data analysis:

“In rural Baker County, Ga., where there is only one insurer, a 50-year-old shopping for a silver plan would pay at least $644.05 before federal subsidies. (Plans range in price and levels of coverage from bronze to platinum, with silver a middle option.) A 50-year-old in Atlanta, where there are four carriers, could pay $320.06 for a comparable plan.”

The Times analysis is a good contribution to the Affordable Care Act debate. As far as we know, it’s a first-of-its-kind analysis of the HHS data. There’s a lot more to learn. But this story confirms what Daily Yonder readers see in these pages frequently: Rural markets work differently than urban ones. Ensuring competition and quality in services like healthcare, broadband and other communications technology isn’t as simple as putting out a sign that says “open for business” and standing out of the way while the private sector stampedes the market.

Google Give $2 Million for Rural Broadband Project. Northern California rural communities can now apply to be part of a Google-funded rural broadband expansion project. Northern California will be the focus of the first round of projects from “Celerate,” a UC-Berkeley and Stanford researchers’ collaboration that aims to to get more affordable broadband to rural places.

Google announced a $2 million gift to the project earlier this week. The gift will be used to develop open-source wireless technology that can be used to provide broadband more efficiently in harder to serve areas. The projects in Northern California will be tests for later national and international rollouts of the technology, leaders say.

Candidate communities should be within 250 miles of Berkeley (sorry, Klamath City, Yreka and Arcata and a bunch of other Northern California towns), include at least 20 households, be outside the reach of conventional broadband, and be able to demonstrate “community excitement and buy-in.” Stoics need not apply.

Colorado Secession Effort. The effort to vote on creating a 51st state out of rural northeast Colorado is facing some local opposition. Three lawyers from Weld County, one of the counties considering a ballot initiative to move forward with secession, are trying to block the measure. The lawyers say the Weld County Commission, which initiated the ballot initiative in their county, doesn’t have the authority to put the measure on the ballot. Weld and other rural counties are asking voters what they think of a plan to secede from Colorado and make a separate state.

Rural Virginians Unenthusiastic about Gubernatorial Choices. Neither the Democrat nor the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia is pulling down big support from rural southwest Virginia voters. But that could be worse news for GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli II than Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the Washington Post reports.

Both candidates are pulling under 50% support in recent polls in southwest Virginia, the Post reports. But traditionally the GOP has relied on big rural majorities to make up for much tighter margins in the more urban northeast part of the state. (That’s a familiar formula for Republican victories in other states and nationally, as well.) “If a Republican doesn’t win by a lot in rural Virginia, there are few other paths to victory,” writes Ben Pershing.

Pershing says tepid support for Republican Cuccinelli stems from a connection to a court case between big coal companies and Virginia landowners over natural gas extraction.

DuPont Earnings Rise. DuPont Co., an agribusiness and chemical giant, says growth in earnings in the last quarter thanks to strong demand for ag products in Latin America, the Des Moines Register and Associated Press report.

 

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