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Improving Health Care for Rural Communities

Research Institute at MU finds “Obama’s health care plan” beneficial to rural areas.

January 3rd, 2011

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­­­–Rural communities have struggled with health care coverage and providers since the days of country doctors making house calls. In a report released by the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), a national policy institute headquartered in the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri, experts found that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as “Obama’s health care plan”, will have a positive effect in rural communities.

Signed by President Obama and enacted by Congress in March 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was designed to end abuses of the insurance industry against patients, and give citizens more rights and benefits such as more health care coverage for children, access to preventative services without cost-sharing, and ending lifetime and some annual limits on care.

According to the RUPRI Health Panel, the act will have a direct effect on those rural residents who are uninsured as a result of working for small businesses with lower wages. The panel also believes that the increases in coverage will help balance reductions in payment to rural health care providers, however, they say the effects on people and providers need to be monitored in real time for any unintended consequences.

RUPRI focused their study on health insurance coverage, Medicare and Medicaid payments, quality, financing and delivery system reform, public health, health care workforce, and long-term care. The study also includes suggestions on how to best improve and monitor provisions of the new law in order to best cover and support rural communities.

“Rural providers will seek affiliations, first among similar rural providers, then with urban-based or regional systems that will enable them to participate in new ways of organizing and financing health care,” Keith Mueller, RUPRI health panel chair and director of the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy, said. “Rural communities will be able to take advantage of programs funding innovations in community health, including rural employers participating in grant-funded wellness programs.”

Although the effects of the act remain to be seen, the RUPRI Health Panel predicts the legislation will create opportunities for rural communities by improving availability, affordability and quality of care. The panel also highlighted different implementation methods and sections of the act that could be improved by future legislation for the benefit of rural communities.

“Such major changes in public policy affecting how health care services are organized and financed need to be flexible to allow for implementation in rural areas,” Mueller, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, said. “The new law and subsequent programs could be more supportive of telemedicine, with capital investment assistance and re-alignment of payment incentives.”

Formed in 1990 at the request of members of the Senate Agriculture Committee with foundational support from Iowa State University, University of Nebraska and MU, RUPRI is now an institution of national significance with a presence in many parts of the country. RUPRI’s mission is to provide objective analysis on the rural impacts of public policies and programs.