Rural areas in Virginia are particularly hard hit by shrinking or non-existent availability to affordable health care, or sometimes, any health care at all. Since I live in a rural area myself, I started looking around at what was happening with regional and local health care.
There are some studies that have looked at access and affordability issues, such as the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, and reports by Virginia committees on the state of kids’ health care and accessibility. These studies and reports are not brand new, but we do know that since the middle of this decade (when these were written) things have gotten worse for rural and low-income citizens without health care coverage.
The impact of being uninsured is enormous. The costs that every taxpayer pays for in Emergency Care for others when paying Federal taxes is the result of no regular physician. Low income uninsured adults are much less likely than low income insured adults to receive care or have a particular doctor they see on a regular basis. These low-income adults are the most likely to have unmet medical needs. When people go to the emergency room and/or take their children there, it is very expensive and very inefficient for the job it has been given in our health care ‘system’. The emergency room was always supposed to be just that; true emergencies, including life-threatening emergencies. It has become the medicine and health care of last resort for far too many people.
When I had no health insurance, I went to the VA Medical Center in Richmond. I appreciated the care they gave me, I paid as I was able for prescriptions and visits. Not everyone has that or any other choice for health care. When there is no insurance, no fall back choice of the VA or public health clinics, people stay sick and infect others. Otherwise productive citizens with jobs, full time jobs with no health care are not paying payroll taxes because they are sick and can’t go to work. If the illness is serious enough, they die without being able to see enough doctors.
Health care without involving insurance companies is not something we will see soon, in my opinion. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is.
We ration care in this country already, and those who claim that any health care reform will mean rationing of care are misguided.
Millions of people over the past few years have been forced to declare bankruptcy because of medical bills. This is the true rationing of health care in this country, and it has to stop. Are we ready as a country to say that if you don’t have money, you can’t be well, and with all that comes with being healthy? Because of these sorts of difficulties, almost 60 percent of low-income uninsured adults had an unmet need for care in the last year because of financial difficulties.
If we can’t treat our own citizens with dignity and respect, what will this country become? In my opinion, a country of extreme haves and have-nots. Those lucky or smart enough to have a lot of money? No problems. Us other people? We get less and less of the health care pie all the time due to higher prices for it.
Health care is a right, a fundamental one. Those who criticize in this country by saying health care is a privilege are wrong, and need to be called on to explain themselves. I ask these people: Is it OK to have almost 30% of this country’s children having no medical care over the last 12 months (of this study) versus just 10% of the insured children? (SHADAC, 2006) Mr. Representative, any of you, would you trade the health of your children for that of other, less fortunate children, the way things are right now? Of course not.
Uninsured Americans have lower 5-year survival rates, a higher likelihood of late stage cancers, a drastically reduced rate of receiving important screening tests. They are also much more likely to have preventable hospitalizations. (Kaiser)
Although Medicare and Medicaid account for 60% of rural hospital’s budgets, the payout is too low for these hospitals to afford newer technology, larger staff, and life-saving procedures. (Center for Rural Affairs) Most of the 5th Congressional District where I live is underserved with shortages of all medical professions.
According to the most recent figures, surprisingly, Charlottesville is the city with the largest population in the 5th District and had the highest percentage of citizens uninsured with over 23%. Other areas, such as Pittsylvania (15.2%), Danville (10.4%), and Lynchburg (13%) are all undoubtedly higher figures than that now.
I am in favor of, as a part of reform, including provisions for incentives such as education loan assistance and recruitment for specific underserved and unserved areas. I am also in favor of medical service commitments as part of AmeriCorps.
Rural areas are not really all that different than any other area. We have our special characteristics, and we have needs. So do urban dwellers. All of us should work together as Americans and Virginians to accomplish the goal of successful health care reform and better health care for all of us.