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Rural Health

Rural Health

NCSL Rural Health Resources

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BarnThe obstacles faced by health care providers and patients in rural areas are different than those in urban areas. The health care delivery system in rural America is largely fragmented. Compared with urban areas that generally contain many provider networks, large hospitals and greater access to technologies, rural areas often have a small number of independent practitioners who cover wide geographic areas, and the nearest medical specialist or hospital may be hours away. The result is a system that often is more costly and less effective at meeting the needs of rural patients.

As a result of the fractured nature of the health care delivery system, as well as unique economic factors and cultural and social differences, rural Americans generally have poorer health status and less access to care than their urban counterparts. Today, rural households have higher rates of death, disability and chronic disease. The rural population is older; has lower education and income levels; and is more likely to smoke, be obese and be physically inactive than the urban population.To reduce inefficiencies and improve care for rural residents, state legislatures seek innovative ways to increase access to doctors and to better coordinate care.  

Did you know?

  • Of the 2,050 rural U.S. counties, 77 percent are designated as health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). Around 4,000 additional primary care practitioners are needed to meet current rural health care needs.
  • Only about 10 percent of physicians practice in rural America despite the fact that nearly one-fifth of the population lives in these areas. 
  • While nearly 85 percent of U.S. residents can reach a Level I or Level II trauma center within an hour, only 24 percent of residents living in rural areas can do so within that time frame – this despite the fact that 60 percent of all trauma deaths in the United States occur in rural areas.
  • The rate of growth for seniors living in rural areas has tripled since the 1990s, and if the 80 million baby boomers living in the United States continue to follow these migration patterns, the rural population of those age 55 to 75 is set to increase 30 percent between 2010 and 2020.
  • Nearly 30 percent of rural primary care practitioners are at or nearing retirement age, while younger practitioners (those under age 40) account for only 20 percent of the current workforce. This means that, in addition to the existing shortages, the number of new practitioners entering the workforce is well below the current replacement rate for retiring primary care practitioners. 
  • As a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), an additional 5 million rural Americans (16 percent) are estimated to have health insurance coverage by 2019, either by way of a health insurance exchange or Medicaid.
  • The average median income for rural residents is $40,615 compared with $51,831 for urban residents.
  • Approximately 15.4 percent of rural residents live in poverty compared with 11.9 percent of urban residents.

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