Indiana Rural Health Association is concerned that improvements in access to and the quality of health in rural communities not be sacrificed in the state's challenging budget deficit.
The first Indiana Rural Health Public Policy Forum at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis recently addressed the issues of the growing problem of healthcare for the uninsured, the positive role of rural health in rural economic development and the state's role in assuring an adequate supply of health professionals.
"Indiana has made great strides in the last few years with the development of the state's system of rural health clinics and rural hospitals. Many of these providers are the 'safety-net' providers for the uninsured in their communities. The increase in unemployment and the continuing reductions in Medicaid and Medicare funding have placed many of these providers at risk. We intend to focus on the state and national legislative issues that are critical to preserving the rural health delivery systems that Indiana has begun to put in place," IRHA Executive Director Frank Shelton said.
To meet the healthcare needs of rural communities requires a partnership of local, state, federal, profit and not-for-profit stakeholders he said in his introduction of keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana).
"Healthcare in the United States is sometimes described as the perfect storm," Lugar said.
He explained that as our longevity continues to increase it entails higher than normally expected expenses. He thanked all those involved in healthcare for the increase in life expectancy rates.
"So Medicare must be dynamic. It calls for $400 billion more to cover the next decade. But the federal government has a deficit of $300 billion for the next year. Our surplus of $1 trillion is gone and so is our safety net for Social Security and Medicare. Each one of us ought to have availability to healthcare services, yet 41 million people in America are without health insurance," Lugar said.
Citing childhood obesity as one of the most important issues facing America, he said a strong emphasis on preventative medicine and adopting healthy lifestyle changes such as better nutrition and exercise would ultimately make a large difference in healthcare costs.
There is an increased awareness that adequate, affordable and accessible healthcare is critical for the overall economic and social viability of rural communities. Without a basic level of health care services, a community cannot attract and retain industry and, therefore, provide local jobs.
"Many rural counties are losing healthcare dollars as residents go out-of-county (for health care). Rural residents have little idea of how important the health sector is to the local economy and how it contributes to employment, income and retail sales. And economic developers need to understand how building the healthcare sector will increase employment," said Paul McNamara, assistant professor in the department of agriculture and consumer economics for the University of Illinois.
In Indiana, there are 46 healthcare workers per 100,000. The national average is 142 per 100,000.
"The link between economic development and healthcare is inseparable," Tim Monger, executive director of Indiana Department of Commerce, said. "Healthcare is as important to a city as infrastructure. Potential companies won't consider moving into a community without healthcare services."
Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Gregory Wilson said medicine has changed dramatically over the last century, moving to a new era from infectious diseases to chronic illnesses, which is related to lifestyle choices and behaviors.
"Those of us living in rural communities have always thought that we were somehow sheltered from diseases faced by urban citizens, so medical screenings are much worse in rural areas. But cancer, respiratory, cardiovascular, obesity and diabetes disease incidents are much higher than in urban areas," Wilson said.
He noted that Indianapolis is the 10th fattest city in the country. Nationally, adolescent obesity is up 300 percent. The annual cost of obesity is $117 billion. Physical costs of obesity include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and stroke, to name a few. But walking and dropping just 10 to 15 pounds could reduce the risk of diabetes by half.
Editor's Note: Tomorrow's edition will discuss the newly formed Clay County Health Improvement Coalition and Mayor Kenny Crabb recognizes the urgency of seeking solutions for the uninsured by declaring this "Cover the Uninsured Week" in Brazil.