Health care reform could offer help for rural areas

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Love it or hate it, President Obama signed into law this week the most ambitious health care reform program this nation has ever seen.

It was without a doubt an historical event, and it was without doubt a controversial event, one that capped one of the longest and fiercest bouts of partisan wrangling our nation has seen.

An answer to whether the legislation will be what’s needed to treat our sick health care system will likely not come for years.

One of the finer points in the legislation will pay primary care physicians who take Medicaid patients 100 percent of Medicare rates beginning in 2013, as opposed to the current 70-percent cap.

If doctors are not paid 100 percent of the rates, it’s an obvious disincentive to treat those patients.

Should health care be a public entitlement for all Americans? That argument isn’t over, not by any stretch. But there’s another question here about whether the poor are entitled to the same medical care as those with the financial means.

We think they are.

And before you allow the term “the poor” to conjure up images of the few among us who refuse to help themselves, consider those who are children or who, as is often the case, live in rural America.

The American Medical Association estimates that more than 35 million Americans live in medically underserved rural areas and that it would take 16,000 doctors to fill that need.

That gap is expected to widen dramatically, reaching 24,000 in 2020 by one estimate.

While there are a number of disincentives for the nation’s brightest young doctors to embark on a practice in a rural town, one of the biggest is undoubtedly a lack of financial compensation.

So, while the details and even the overarching philosophy behind the health care reform are debated and questioned, we’re glad to see one more obstacle — reimbursement for treating Medicaid patients — removed.