The National Farmers Union board of directors today suggested several legislative remedies for ailing health care systems in rural America.

"Long distances between health care facilities and a shortage of medical professionals are unfortunate realities in many rural communities," said NFU President Dave Frederickson.  "Rural America requires legislative attention focused specifically on providing affordable and accessible health care."

In a letter to leaders of the Senate Rural Health Caucus and the House Rural Health Care Coalition, the NFU board recommended the following actions:

  • Universal access and coverage - All avenues to provide adequate and comprehensive health care should be explored, including health plans operating through the state and federal government as well as private providers.
  • Self-employed health care coverage - NFU supports legislation allowing self-employed persons to deduct the full cost of their health insurance, including premiums, deductibles, co-pays and long-term care, on their federal and state income tax returns. 

     "Rural economies rely significantly on self-employed persons, including family farmers and ranchers," Frederickson explained.  "The declining rural economy, especially reliant on a slumping agriculture economy, leaves many in the tenuous position of having to choose between making health insurance payments or meeting other business expenses." 

  • Medicare - Frederickson said that while Congress has worked to adjust the Medicare reimbursement payment formula, it still does not adequately compensate rural providers relative to urban providers.
  • A more equitable reimbursement formula would benefit providers struggling to support aging populations more prevalent in rural areas, he said. In addition, the NFU board suggested adjusting the Medicare wage index to reflect communities' and hospitals' needs to compete nationally for physicians, which would help rural areas better respond to the scarcity of medical professionals.
  • Scarcity of medical professionals - In addition to addressing the wage index inequity in Medicare reimbursement formulas, NFU leaders suggested training programs for medical professionals be fully funded and expanded, and additional incentive programs for medical professionals be explored.
  • Prescription drugs - Any prescription drug reform plan should include full rural access to prescription drugs and pharmacy services, the NFU board letter said.

Source: National Farmers Union