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Expand chart
Data: Kaiser Family Foundation; Map: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Some of the Affordable Care Act's biggest problems — rising premiums and lackluster competition among insurers — are most severe in rural areas. And those areas tend to be conservative, but there's little serious effort among Republicans to address these problems.

Why it matters: Rising premiums put health care further out of reach for middle-class people in these areas. At some point, they're going to want to hear workable solutions from their elected representatives.

The problem: By definition, rural areas are sparsely populated. So there's not much competition among hospitals and other providers, which means insurers don't have much leverage to negotiate lower prices. And with fewer customers overall, one very expensive patient can have a disproportionate impact on a plan's bottom line.

  • “Conservative approaches to dealing with health costs tend to revolve around a competitive market, but the challenge with rural areas is you don’t have the ingredients for a competitive market," said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

What they're saying: Broadly, Republicans have focused on proposals that would make it easier for healthy people to extricate themselves from the ACA's insurance markets. Those consumers would likely pay less, but costs and competition would only get worse for the people who need the coverage guarantees the ACA provides.

“This boils down to money for services. One way or another you have to come up with the money, find a way to get the price of the services down, or find a way to not use all of the services.”
— Joe Antos of the American Enterprise Institute

The other side: There was some bipartisan support earlier this year for a new reinsurance program, which would offset the costs of insurers' most expensive customers. Experts said it would have helped, including in rural areas. But it fell apart.

  • Democrats have proposed a slew of ideas they say could help ease the burden in sparsely populated regions, mostly at taxpayers' expense — including a public option, an expansion of the ACA's premium subsidies, or new caps on payments. But none of those ideas have any real chance of actually happening, at least any time soon.

The bottom line: Reinsurance is by far the most bipartisan solution to the rural problem. Even that couldn't get through this Congress, and lawmakers aren't expected to return to health care policy before the midterms. This problem will likely get worse before it gets better.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
10 mins ago - Technology

Axios interview: Facebook to try for more transparency

Nick Clegg last year. Photo: Matthew Sobocinski/USA Today via Reuters

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, tells me the company will try to provide more data to outside researchers to scrutinize the health of activity on Facebook and Instagram, following The Wall Street Journal's brutal look at internal documents.

Driving the news: Clegg didn't say that in his public response to the series. So I called him to push for what Facebook will actually do differently given the new dangers raised by The Journal.

The Exvangelicals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Even as evangelicals maintain their position as the most popular religion in the U.S., a movement of self-described "exvangelicals" is breaking away, using social media to engage tens of thousands of former faithful.

The big picture: Donald Trump's presidency, as well as movements around LGBTQ rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, drew more Americans into evangelical churches while also pushing some existing members away.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.