By: Peg O’Connell
I love our partners at NC Child. They do the BEST child advocacy work and everything they produce is smart, salient and exactly on point, and their new issue brief “North Carolina’s Rural Health Systems in Crisis” is no exception.
The brief explores how enacting a solution to close North Carolina’s coverage gap can offer a lifeline to rural health systems struggling under COVID-19 and the connection between high rates of un-insurance in rural North Carolina, massive financial strain on health care providers, dwindling rural health care options, and the narrowing path to economic recovery in rural communities.
“In North Carolina, access to health care has as much to do with where you live, as whether you can afford it,” said Dr. Ciara Zachary, lead author of the issue brief and Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at the UNC School of Public Health. “In rural counties there are fewer pediatricians, fewer hospitals, fewer OB-GYNs and specialty services. With higher numbers of people uninsured, rural providers are having a harder time staying in business, especially now with the financial strain of the pandemic.”
Closing the gap gives us a powerful tool to bolster North Carolina’s rural health system as the state battles coronavirus and the related economic strain, according to the new brief. The NC Healthcare Association estimates that rural hospitals are collectively losing $145 million per month since the pandemic began. According to the brief, “If North Carolina were to expand its Medicaid program, the result would be over $11 billion in new health care funding to the state from 2020-22. Rural areas stand to gain the most.”
Across the state, 16% of adults were uninsured even before the pandemic struck. In many rural counties uninsured rates were much higher, with as many as 1 in 4 adults uninsured. Those numbers are climbing since the pandemic began, as many thousands of North Carolinians lose their employer-sponsored health insurance along with their jobs. Hundreds of thousands more adults could become uninsured in North Carolina, according to recent estimates.
I highly recommend this issue brief to you, if you want to learn more about rural health in our state. It provides several policy recommendations to bolster rural health systems, fight COVID-19, and provide a better path towards economic recovery in rural North Carolina counties. To download the full issue brief and graphics, visit: bit.ly/rhbrief
PS: Thanks to my colleague Adam Sotak at NC Child who compiled most of the information for this blog. See, I told you they were the BEST!