Health Reform Coverage vs. Access: Dealing with the Influx of Newly Covered Rural Patients

rural-landscapeThe Senate started this snowy D.C. morning with yet another day of floor debate in an unusual, but seemingly becoming more common, Saturday session.  The week was spent debating Medicare Advantage, long term care, home health and many other important issues, but has yet to move beyond the broader topic of insurance coverage. As the NRHA has stated since the very beginning, reducing the number of total uninsured is important, but not as important as bridging the gap in ACCESS to providers.  What difference does it make if you have insurance if you don't have a doctor in your area?  Even further, a question becoming more and more of a rumbling concern is what to do when previously uninsured patients now become insured without parallel increases in the number of providers in their area. This article from MSNBC (thanks to NRHA member John Sheehan for forwarding) highlights Dr. Ben Edwards, the only doctor within a 45 mile radius operating out of Post, Texas, who has very justifiable concern about this looming problem.  As the article states:

If all of Post's 3,708 residents had full health coverage, Edwards believes they would flock to his clinic, but his practice is already full with more than 2,000 patients. He has no idea how he would fit in anyone else.
Dr. Edwards, the subject of the article and only physician in the small rural town, says he wants to be able to treat everyone, a commonly altruistic trait of doctors choosing to practice in rural America, but simply cannot take on any new patients.  So in this anecdotal situation, increasing the total number of insured Americans will do absolutely nothing without parallel efforts to increase the providers in his area. Please click here for the NRHA government affairs health reform page, with information on the positive steps the Senate bill takes, as well as the outstanding rural amendments still needed during the floor debate.  Please contact your Senators to remind them that fixing the rural workforce shortage is of key importance to achieving true health reform.