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Report: Public Health Insurance Option Good for Rural SD

July 24, 2009

Lyons, NE - The fifth in a series of reports targeting health care reform issues in rural America has been released, and finds the cost of health insurance is crushing small businesses and the self-employed. Those two groups are the backbone of South Dakota's rural economy, according to the report.

Report author Jon Bailey, the Center for Rural Affairs' director of research and analysis, says the health care debate has so far been framed as an urban issue. His group is highlighting the rural issues, and he says a public health insurance option would be welcomed.

"They would have, first of all, choice. There currently is very little choice in health insurance for rural people and the cost factor would be lower premiums for the public option. That's important for rural small businesses and self-employed who can't afford insurance in the current market. If you give them an affordable option, we're going to have more people with health insurance coverage in rural areas."

Opponents say large participation in a public health insurance option could force private insurers out of the market. However, Bailey says pending legislation in the House would place a limit on who would be eligible for a public option. Only those who are uninsured, have individual insurance coverage, or small business owners employing fewer than 10 people would qualify, he says.

"That's a fairly limited number of people and the Congressional Budget Office estimates only about nine million people would end up on the public insurance plans. Those are the kind of populations that exist in rural areas, exist in greater numbers in rural areas, and are having the problems affording quality health insurance in rural areas."

Double-digit premium increases are making it increasingly difficult for rural businesses to provide insurance to their employees, he adds, and the price increases in the individual insurance market are astronomical. Options are needed to help the self-employed, small businesses, farmers and ranchers who are currently purchasing insurance solely as bankruptcy protection, and whose daily health care needs are coming straight out of pocket, he says.

A copy of the report can be viewed at files.cfra.org/pdf/Public_Plan.pdf.

David Law, Public News Service - SD