Improving Rural Health: State Policy Options for Increasing Access to Care


rural farm sundown


Ensuring individuals have access to health care—or the timely use of personal health services to achieve the best health outcomes—is critical for managing chronic health conditions, avoiding premature death and reducing health disparities. Rural Americans, however, experience unique challenges in accessing necessary health care services compared to their urban counterparts. More than three-quarters of the nation’s rural counties are designated as health professional shortage areas (HPSAs)—geographic areas, populations or facilities with insufficient access to health care providers and professionals in primary care, dental care or mental health. Moreover, rural Americans are less likely to have insurance coverage and more likely to travel longer in both time and distance to the nearest hospital compared to those living in suburban or urban areas. These challenges—along with other demographic, environmental, economic and social factors—negatively affect the overall health of rural Americans.

To address barriers that impede access in rural areas, states have adopted various strategies to provide affordable and accessible health care services. This report highlights several state policies and investments for increasing rural access to care in three key areas:

  • Improving health care coverage.
  • Safeguarding rural health facilities.
  • Changing rural health care delivery.