Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack hosted a national press conference call on Wednesday to discuss the need for reform in the healthcare system to help rural Americans and announce $30 million in grants and loans to rural communities from Recovery Act, many of which are being put toward healthcare infrastructure.
During the teleconference, Vilsack talked about the disparity between urban and rural healthcare and insurance and said that without a doubt healthcare reform will help rural America.
"Under the current system rural Americans, whether you focus on the affordability of insurance, the availability of insurance or the quality of healthcare they get, in all three respects they strike out," Vilsack said. "In terms of affordability rural residents pay more for their healthcare insurance and more for their healthcare as a percentage of income than their urban counterparts do. The reason for that is there are a significantly higher number of uninsured people as a percentage of population in rural communities. When they get healthcare the cost of that gets shifted and so as a result rural residents are often paying more in deductibles, more in co-pays than their counterparts and their premiums are often higher because there is very little if any competition; there is no real choice for them."
Vilsack says that about one in four people in towns of less than 2500 people are uninsured, which is much higher than urban and suburban populations. Because people don't have insurance and because they have to pay more out-of-pocket expense a number of people in rural communities have a tendency to forgo going to the doctor when they first get sick. Vilsack says that results in getting very sick, which necessitates greater amounts of money to take care of them.
"I think you are going to see a continued focus on improving current practices," Vilsack said. "If states simply focused on simply getting the best practices in the existing system today, there are substantial sums of money that could be saved. There's lots of ways to do this and I'm sure as this moves through the process, Senators from rural areas are going to raise this issue and I'll be surprised if it doesn't get dealt with at some time during the process."
Use the player above to listen to Vilsack's opening statement to Wednesday's teleconference.