Rural Residents Face Health Challenges

Rural Residents Face Health Challenges

Those outside of population centers less likely to have health insurance, study says
A family in rural America

While the coronavirus crisis mostly impacted large cities and urban areas in the earliest days of the pandemic, a new survey suggests that rural America may face its own set of risks from COVID-19 and other health challenges.

Transamerica Center for Health Studies, a research firm that focuses on health care issues, released a new study in light of the current pandemic that examined results from its previous survey on rural health care.

Not only do rural residents consider themselves to be less healthy than their urban and suburban counterparts, the study said, but they are also less likely to have health insurance.

A snapshot of rural health

The researchers pointed to problems facing rural populations in terms of wellness and health care, citing data from their most recent annual survey (conducted in 2019, before the pandemic). For example, rural residents were less likely to report good health:

  • Among rural respondents, 69% describe themselves as having “excellent” (17%) or “good” (52%) health.
  • Approximately 79% of urban residents consider themselves having “excellent” (26%) or “good” (53%) health.
  • For suburban residents, 78% reported either “excellent” (21%) or “good” (57%) health.

On top of that, 69% of rural residents have been diagnosed with at least one health condition, compared with 66% of urban residents and 64% of suburban residents.

At the same time, nearly 1 in 5 rural residents (19%) have no health insurance, compared with 10% of urban residents and 11% of suburban residents, according to the survey data.

Even among those with health insurance, rural residents were less likely to find routine health care costs affordable. In the survey, 75% of rural residents said they could afford routine health care costs such as co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses — less than the 82% of urban residents and 85% of suburban residents who said they find routine health care costs affordable.

Workplaces may play a role

One factor contributing to the health care disparities between rural and urban residents could be the workplace. Overall, rural workers feel less supported by their employers when it comes to health care benefits.

According to the survey, 70% of rural workers said they were satisfied with the health insurance plan available to them at work, compared with 84% of urban workers and 80% of suburban workers.

On top of that:

  • 66% of rural workers said their employer offers major medical insurance, compared to 75% of urban workers and 74% of suburban workers.
  • 57% of rural workers said they believe their employer is concerned about the affordability of employee health insurance, compared to 68% of urban workers who think their employer is concerned.
  • 54% of rural workers believe their employer is concerned about their ability to afford out-of-pocket health care expenses, compared to 65% of urban workers.
  • 30% of rural workers say they have been offered a workplace wellness program, compared with 52% of urban workers and 43% of suburban workers.

Whether one’s employer offers health benefits or not, health care costs can be overwhelming. However, there are cheaper health insurance options that consumers can explore. Just be sure to carefully evaluate the different plans available, so that you don’t waste your money on less-than-solid coverage.

Methodology: Public opinion firm The Harris Poll conducted a survey of 3,760 health care consumers during August 7-19, 2019, on behalf of Transamerica Center for Health Studies. Respondents were between the ages of 18 and 64, with the sample consisting of 1,099 urban residents, 1,795 suburban residents and 866 rural residents.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.