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Rural NV Could Benefit from Health Care Reform

January 11, 2010

LAS VEGAS - In Nevada, 264,000 small-town residents know how hard it can be to see a doctor, and Congress is thinking about that matter, too. As the House and Senate try to work out a health care reform compromise, advocates for rural communities say parts of the legislation that would benefit small towns are likely to be approved. For instance, both bills include plans to encourage more physicians to leave the big city for the countryside.

With only ten percent of doctors practicing in small towns, Virginia Wolking, organizer with the Center for Rural Affairs, says it would be an important step to remedy that shortage.

"That's one of the big issues; even if somebody wanted to practice in a rural area for their residency, there just aren't enough slots for them. And research shows that, when someone comes to a rural area to do their residency, they end up staying there, so that's a really positive thing."

Wolking says she's heard the complaints that Congress isn't doing enough to rein in drug manufacturers and insurance companies, but she says that if the proposals ultimately get more people insured, it will benefit rural America.

"More rural people are uninsured than people in urban areas, and people who are uninsured receive fewer preventive services. That's part of why having 95 percent of people covered by insurance is so important, so that people can get the preventive care that they need."

Wolking says both the House and Senate bills also provide more funding for community health centers. Nevada has six rural health clinics and two federally-qualified health centers, which serve as the health care safety net system for the poor and uninsured.

Both bills in Congress would also allow doctors and nurses to work off some of their medical school debt by teaching, which Wolking says will be critical with the growing national shortage of medical personnel. The American Medical Association says new doctors graduate with an average of $155,000 in medical school debt.

More information is online at www.cfra.org

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV