Pandemic steamrolls healthcare access for rural Americans
The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating healthcare access issues for rural America, resulting in negative health consequences for people who haven't been able to get medical care when they need it.
Roughly one in four rural households (24%) said household members have been unable to get medical care for serious problems when they needed it during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new poll from NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
As a result, 56% of those households report negative health consequences.
This is especially concerning given that 53% of rural households have someone living with a chronic illness, and 42% have someone who's at high risk for developing serious illness from coronavirus due to their age or underlying medical conditions.
In addition, 33% of households with someone with a chronic illness haven't been able to get care for a serious problem when they needed it during the outbreak, resulting in negative health consequences for 60% of them.
While other studies have shown that access to medical care "is largely related to financial issues, in this case, the COVID-19 situation created a major barrier for rural Americans to be seen by a physician or hospital. It is clear that in an epidemic, we have to find better ways to manage access to care for people who need it," survey co-director Robert J. Blendon said in a statement.
When asked why they couldn't get care:
- 46% of rural households report they could not get an appointment during the hours they needed
- 40% report they could not find a doctor who would see them
- 39% report they could not afford that healthcare
- 25% report they felt the healthcare location was too far or too difficult to get to
- 12% report they could not find a doctor who would take their health insurance
The survey also revealed that the outbreak is causing internet, financial, and childcare problems for rural households:
- 34% report either having serious problems with their internet connection to do their jobs or schoolwork, or that they do not have a high-speed internet connection at home
- 46% of rural households report using telehealth because they could not see a healthcare provider in person
- 42% of rural households report facing serious financial problems during the coronavirus outbreak, including depleting household savings and serious problems paying credit card bills and other debt
- Far more Black or Latino rural households (85%) than white rural households (36%) report serious financial problems
- 43% of rural households report an adult household member has lost their job, been furloughed, or had wages or hours reduced since the start of the outbreak, and of those, 66% reported serious financial problems
- 54% of rural households with children report experiencing serious problems during this time, including with keeping their children's education going (34%)
- 40% of rural households with children either do not have a high-speed internet connection at home or report serious problems with their internet connection to do schoolwork or their jobs