Focus Policy Changes on Rural Needs to Strengthen Health Coverage

Policy; Public Health; Research; Social Work

Policy changes that encourage health insurers to operate in rural areas and that restructure payments to offset fixed health care costs are key to enhancing affordable health care in rural America, according to a recent report from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

The July report from the Rural Policy Research Institute notes that access to health insurance is increasingly uneven and unaffordable, especially in some rural areas. The report provides relevant economic theory, along with policy considerations. The lead author is Abigail Barker, research assistant professor at the Brown School; other contributing authors are members of an expert panel on rural health policy that includes Timothy McBride, professor at the Brown School.

The report concludes that the most immediately achievable policy successes are likely to result from:

  • Risk reinsurance programs to encourage insurers.
  • Better attention to the challenges faced by rural areas by changing the structure and regulation of rating areas.
  • Use of rural development funds to offset infrastructure and other costs to support community providers.

“Ultimately, it is critical to continue this dialogue, informing it with timely research and providing ‘real time’ analysis of options, evaluating them with a rural-specific lens,” Barker said.