Dec 7, 2019

The urban-rural health care divide is growing

Photo illustration of a doctor taking a patient's blood pressure at a remote clinic for the uninsured in rural New York state

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

All the bad parts of the health care system — poor health, high costs, inadequate access — are worse in rural areas.

The big picture: "This rural disadvantage is unprecedented," said James Kirby, a federal health researcher.

  • Mortality rates are higher in rural areas, and many of those disparities are getting bigger.
  • Women in rural areas are more likely to die from pregnancy-related deaths than urban women. Two-thirds of these deaths are preventable.

Between the lines: Operating a health care practice, especially a hospital, in a rural area is a tough proposition: There aren't many patients, and a large proportion of them are covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

  • More than 100 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and those still up and running have slashed some services for patients in order to survive, according to one study.
  • It can also be hard to recruit doctors to work in rural areas.

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