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What Rural Needs to Know About the New Medicare

[imgbelt img=tim+preceptor.jpeg]This may be an election in which we get to pick our poison: health care run by big government or by big business.


… encourage insurers and providers to serve all rural patients, including the least healthy?

… support the unique role of rural hospitals and clinics? 

… increase or decrease the jobs available in rural America?

Like many of us who live and/or work in rural America, I am sick of being treated as if we are a drag on the Medicare program. Some would want you to believe that rural is a black hole for scarce Medicare dollars.

In fact, the opposite is true, according to a new report by iVantage Health Analytics: “Physician services payments are 18% lower and hospital service payments are 2% lower for Medicare beneficiaries living in rural versus non-rural settings. Cost per Medicare beneficiary is 3.7% lower overall for rural vs. urban beneficiaries.”

The report continues: “Approximately $7.2 billion in annual savings to the Medicare program could be realized if the average cost per urban beneficiary were equal to the average cost per rural beneficiary. Medicare already benefits from $2.2 billion of lower beneficiary costs for care delivered to rural beneficiaries vs. urban.”

Rural citizens pay taxes at the same rate as all Americans. Some may wish to have rural pay more to receive less than the rest of the country. 

But there is no basis for saying that rural is receiving more than its fair share of Medicare spending.

Regardless of who wins this election, those of us in rural healthcare must be part of the solution. To be part of saving Medicare, rural healthcare providers, like all providers, need to continue doing more and better for less.

We need to make the full transition to adopt health information technology. We need to focus on providing quality and cost-effective care as opposed to simply increasing the volume of service. We need to collaborate with each other and urban providers to deliver the continuum of care seamlessly to  all patients. We need to partner with all parts of our rural communities to create a healthier people.

Bottom line: rural America is affected by where our health care dollars are spent; rural communities are hurt badly when policy and politics ignore the impact on rural health and the impact on the local rural economy.

Tim Size is executive director of Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative in Sauk City and former National Rural Health Association president. This article first appears in the September edition of RWHC Quarterly.

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