Living in a rural community shouldn't have to come with a hefty price tag for health care. On this National Rural Health Day, we celebrate the fact that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it no longer has to.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is already making a difference in the lives of millions of rural Americans. Prior to the ACA, many rural families had a hard time finding affordable insurance coverage, paying an average of nearly half of their costs out of their own pockets. Many didn't have access to affordable health insurance through an employer because they were self-employed as farmers, ranchers or rural business owners and entrepreneurs. While those folks take calculated business risks every day, their health should not be one of them.
Today, they can choose from a variety of affordable insurance plans and many will qualify for financial assistance to help them pay for coverage. During the last open enrollment period, which ran through March of 2014, nearly seven out of 10 people across the country found coverage for less than a $100 a month. The ACA also forbids insurance companies from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions and covers preventive care. This is especially beneficial for rural Americans who, on average, suffer from higher rates of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure than those living in urban areas. The ACA also includes a special rule that requires insurance companies to publicly justify premium increases of more than 10 percent -- which means no more expensive surprises for rural families from year to year.
The administration has also taken steps to address the underlying challenges to staying healthy in rural America. It has more than doubled the size of the National Health Service Corps, which offers scholarships and loan repayment to health practitioners in return for practicing in rural communities and other underserved areas. More than 3,500 Corps members now serve in rural areas, and an average of 86 percent of them will remain in their communities even after completing their service. These investments help keep a steady stream of young, motivated doctors and nurses in rural America. That's a good thing because while one in five Americans lives in a rural community, just 10 percent of doctors practice there.
The ACA also invests significantly in expanding services at community health centers, where 7.5 million rural Americans get access to primary and preventive care. That comes on top of the more than $3 billion USDA has invested since 2009 to strengthen health infrastructure in rural areas, building rural hospitals and health clinics and expanding access to health care in remote rural areas through telemedicine. Today, we announced an additional $10 million in grants to improve access to health care in rural America.
For many rural Americans, this is the first time in recent memory that they've been able to afford health insurance and get comprehensive, regular health care.
Take Naomi Rosan, a farmer in rural Georgia, for example. Naomi has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since high school and hasn't been able to afford health insurance for many years. Naomi desperately needed surgery to improve her mobility, but couldn't afford it without health insurance -- until the ACA. For the first time in years, Naomi is able to climb on her tractor and put in a day's work without pain, all thanks to the coverage she received through the ACA.
The Affordable Care Act gives hardworking rural families the financial security and peace of mind they deserve. It makes rural communities stronger and rural families healthier. Find out more at healthcare.gov or 1-800-318-2596 before February 15, 2015 -- because no one should go without health care because of where they live, or be forced to leave the communities they love to get the coverage they need.