Roundup: Sticky or Icky?

The case of the mistaken okra • Medicare patients pay more in rural hospitals • Reframing conservation • Two rural journalism awards given • Wooing ranchers in Nebraska

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A Georgia man was surprised to see a helicopter hanging over his house right before a team of cops, “strapped to the gills,” came knocking on his door. His offense? Growing okra plants in his garden. The cops mistook them for marijuana. The biggest differences between the plants are 1) okra has only five leaves, and 2) okra is totally not marijuana.

This story has sparked a debate in the Daily Yonder office as to whether okra should be legal. Our editor loves the stuff, but I would be fine if it were added to the banned substances list (despite the New York Times telling us it’s now OK to like the vegetable).

— Shawn Poynter

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Legalize it!

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Patients using Medicare at rural critical access hospitals may be paying up to six times more than their metro counterparts for some services, according to a the Department of Health and Human Services, reports Kaiser Health News.

The difference in fees stems from the way Medicare pays hospitals for services. Medicare pays rural critical access hospitals more for their services to help defray the higher costs of serving rural areas. Medicare requires patients to pay for 20% of the cost of services, so the higher the rate, the more the patient pays.

Medicare patients in 2012 receiving an electrocardiogram at a [predominately rural] critical access hospital owed an average of $33, while patients at other hospitals had to pay $5, according to the report. Patients getting an initial infusion into a vein had to pay $56 on average at a critical access hospital, while patients at other hospitals paid $25.

Many supplemental insurance policies for the elderly pick up the tab, but one in seven Medicare recipients lacks such as policy. In addition, these higher medical costs are ultimately factored into the premiums insurers set.

Patient cost at these small, rural hospitals is one more factor in the current debate over the future of critical access hospitals, which serve small, rural communities that likely would lose their in-patient facilities if not for special considerations in fees and reimbursements.

Brock Slabach, a senior vice president at the National Rural Health Association, said this issue has been raised before by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, which counsels Congress. He said that because the law requires that critical access hospitals be paid their “reasonable” costs plus 1 percent, Congress would either have to change the law or Medicare would need to pay more to make up for the lower patient portions.

“The reason this hasn’t been solved is it would require the Medicare program to subsidize more,” Slabach said.

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There’s nothing inherently newsworthy about Merrill Beyeler, a 69-year-old conservative rancher in small town Idaho, winning a primary race for a state house seat. The news here is how he’s doing it: Beyeler is a pro-government Republican running on a pro-conservation platform. Beyeler, who was a teacher for decades before taking over his family’s ranch, has been a part of nearly 200 projects aiming to help save the local salmon population. The key, he thinks, is reframing the idea of environmentalism.

"When people use the term 'environmentalists,' I think really what they want to say is 'extremists.' " On the other hand, he says: "There's nothing more conservative than conservation."

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Two awards from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky recognize the achievements of small-town reporting and efforts to cover rural news.

The Gish Award, named for the former publishers of Whitesburg, Kentucky’s Mountain Eagle newspaper, will go to the late Landon Wills, who published the McLean County (Kentucky) News for nearly 30 years and used the platform to advocate for civil rights and community development.

The Al Smith Award will go to journalists whose names should be familiar to readers of the Daily Yonder: Julie Ardery and Bill Bishop, founding editors of the Daily Yonder. The husband-and-wife team currently serve as Yonder contributing editors and lives La Grange, Texas. They are Kentucky natives. 

Al Cross, director of the IRJCI, said Ardery and Bishop's work on the Daily Yonder had “created a much greater sense of community among rural people in a diverse, changing rural America.”

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The Wisconsin Office of Rural Health is sponsoring a video contest and offering cash prizes to winners. The pieces must be shorter than 10 minutes and have a “clear connection to rural healthcare in Wisconsin.”

The deadline is November 3rd.

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The Associated Press looks at the efforts of Nebraska’s gubernatorial candidates to woo the rural vote.

Republican Pete Ricketts and Democrat Chuck Hassebrook are both pitching themselves as the most farm-friendly candidate in the final weeks before the Nov. 4 election….

Ricketts lays claim to endorsements from the Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Cattlemen's political action committee.

He also points to his 15-member "Ag Advisory Committee," a group he formed to create farming policies for his campaign. The group includes farmers, ranchers, a banker and owners of farm equipment dealerships. …

Hassebrook highlights his 36-year career with the Center for Rural Affairs, a national advocacy group that works to revive family farms and small towns.

He also is backed by the Nebraska Farmers Union's political action committee, and his campaign touts endorsements by past leaders of various Nebraska commodity boards for corn, wheat, soybeans, pork and cattle. Hassebrook lives in Lyons, a town of about 850 in northeast Nebraska, and often tells voters that he understands firsthand the concerns of people outside of Omaha and Lincoln.

Early voting started in Nebraska on Saturday.

 

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