KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Rural Americans And The Unemployed Struggle To Get Adequate Health Insurance

"For many of the 60 million people living in rural America, inadequate and unaffordable healthcare is an immediate and growing problem," Reuters reports. "Reform is a big deal here. We're on the edge," said Brian Wolfe, an Iola [Kansas] family doctor. Half his patients rely on government aid for the poor and elderly and some who need care don't seek it because they can't pay…. Rural residents are heavily represented among the 46 million Americans lacking health insurance. Many are too poor to pay for a doctor's visit and too far from cities to reach emergency rooms and free clinics. Additionally, rural residents are disproportionately losing jobs and insurance or their seeing benefits cut as employers fire workers and cut costs in the continuing recession. When rural residents do seek care, many find long lines for a shrinking number of primary care physicians and specialists."

"A study released on Tuesday by the Center for Rural Affairs argued that rural areas need a public option. People living in rural regions tend to be older. They suffer from more chronic health problems, but have less access to private employer-based insurance because so many are self-employed or work for small businesses." But "the bills under consideration would not change the fact that rural areas simply do not have enough doctors. Critics say reform should focus more on increasing incentives for doctors to serve rural Americans" (Gillam, 7/22).

The Star Tribune focuses on the unemployed. "For some who've lost their jobs, the lack of health insurance could cost them their lives." The article begins with the story of Mike Harris, who was diagnosed with cancer just two months after being laid off. "The ordeal has taught him firsthand a peculiarity of the U.S. health care system: Lose your job and -- even if it's when you need it most -- you typically lose your health insurance benefits. For many, that means suddenly picking up the full cost of insurance previously subsidized by their employer, or searching for alternatives… With unemployment at a 26-year high, economists estimate that more than 5 million people have lost their health insurance since the recession began."

"The day before the diagnosis, his wife, Linda, sprang into action. She applied for health insurance through COBRA, the federal program that enables people to extend their employer-based coverage for a limited time if they lose their jobs involuntarily. The cost can be daunting -- $400 a month for Harris -- because the ex-employee has to pay the full premium. But people who are sick have little choice, because private insurance companies will almost certainly deny individual coverage to applicants with serious pre-existing conditions… This year's federal economic stimulus law will help because it covers 65 percent of COBRA premiums. That cut Mike Harris' premium from $400 a month to $138" (Yee, 7/22).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.