Skyrocketing health care costs are undermining the foundations of the rural economy -- self-employment and small business. Family farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses are among the hardest hit by premium hikes. And as premiums rise, fewer rural entrepreneurs can take the leap of faith to start a farm, ranch or business.
The Senate's health care bill will make insurance more affordable by providing refundable tax credits to offset insurance premiums for families and small businesses. The proposal also contains crucial reforms to the insurance industry including, prohibiting denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, requiring premiums be used to cover actual medical care, and ensuring individuals are not stuck with unexpected and unaffordable out-of-pocket expenses. The establishment of an insurance exchange to increase competition and standardize information allowing easier comparison of insurance plans by consumers will also lower prices for family farmers, ranchers, small businesses and working families.
The Senate would address rural America's medical provider shortage by forgiving college loans to doctors who practice in rural areas and increasing support for rural students to become family physicians. Moreover, the bill takes a major step in correcting the payment inequities that have plagued rural health care providers.
No proponent of reform would call the Senate proposal perfect. But it is crucial to maintain and strengthen the bill's reforms and affordability provisions as the debate continues and then pass this historic legislation. Rural America wants and needs the reforms that the Senate proposal offers.
(The Center for Rural Affairs was formed by rural Nebraskans concerned about family farms and rural communities, and we work to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities.)