By KATHLEEN SEBELIUS and TOM VILSACK
Posted on Tue, Jan. 18, 2011
Kansas City Star
As former governors from the Heartland, we’ve seen firsthand how Americans in rural areas struggle to get the health care they need. Whether it’s a farmer losing his health insurance because he has no good choices or a mom putting off a treatment because there aren’t enough doctors nearby, rural Americans often go without critical preventive care or key procedures. And their health suffers as a result.
That’s starting to change with the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act. By holding insurers accountable, the law frees families in rural communities from the worst abuses of the insurance industry and helps keep premiums down. By investing in our health care workforce, it will make it easier for people in rural areas to see a doctor.
Yet some in Congress say they want to repeal the law. We can’t afford to let that happen.
Our old health insurance market didn’t work for rural Americans. A lot of people in rural communities work for themselves, a small business, or work part-time. That means they’re less likely to get insurance through their employer.
And what’s more, families in rural areas are often forced to choose between a few powerful insurance companies. The result is that rural Americans are more likely to be uninsured, have higher out-of-pocket costs, and pay more for their insurance premiums than the rest of the country.
Today, the new law is giving rural families and small business owners more freedom in their health care choices.
Thanks to a new patient’s bill of rights, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children because of their pre-existing health conditions, a protection that will extend to all Americans in 2014. And insurers are now forbidden from using an unintentional error in an application to cancel coverage when someone gets sick.
Those practices will return to rural communities across the country if repeal succeeds.
But distance and availability are also obstacles to care for many rural families. More than three quarters of rural counties have areas that lack access to primary care doctors.
To help these families get care, the new law makes a historic investment in our health care workforce. It will help train and support thousands of new primary care doctors and nurses and encourage them to practice in underserved rural communities. And the new law will help community health centers — which so many rural areas rely on — expand to serve up to 20 million more patients a year.
Repeal would eliminate these investments, leaving thousands of rural communities across the country without enough doctors and nurses.
The new law is bringing down the cost of health coverage by holding insurers accountable. Under new rules, there will be a limit on the amount of premium insurance companies can spend on marketing and CEO salaries. States are getting new resources to review and reject unreasonable premium increases. And in 2014, there will be a new state-based health insurance marketplace where small business owners and part-time workers can have more choices at a lower cost.
These changes are already making a big difference for people like Jenny Bass, a farmer from Connecticut. Thanks partly to her state’s actions to block unreasonable health insurance rate increases last year, Jenny’s family was able to save their farm.
If we repeal the new law, Jenny and countless others will be put right back at the mercy of their insurance companies.
No one should have to go without health care because of where they live. The new law is giving rural Americans better health coverage choices, stronger protections from insurance abuses and more access to doctors and nurses. To repeal the law just as families across the country are starting to see the benefits would be a huge mistake.
Kathleen Sebelius, former Kansas governor, is health and human services secretary. Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor, is agriculture secretary.