Poll: Financial insecurity and limited access to health care plague many rural Americans

Many rural Americans are experiencing financial insecurity, according to a new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll. The poll, conducted among 1,405 adults living in the rural United States, found that 40% of respondents struggled with routine medical bills, food, and housing while 49% said they could not afford to pay an unexpected $1,000 expense of any type.

The poll also found that 26% of respondents were not able to get health care when they needed it at some point in recent years despite the fact that 87% of respondents reported having health insurance of some sort. Among respondents who were not able to obtain health care, 45% said they could not afford it, 23% said the health care facility was too far or difficult to get to, and 22% said they could not get an appointment at a convenient time. Nearly one in ten of respondents said hospitals in their local community have closed down in the past few years.

“At a time when we thought we had made major progress in reducing barriers to needed health care, the fact that one in four still face these barriers is an issue of national concern,” said Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis and senior associate dean for policy translation and leadership development at Harvard Chan School, in a May 21 NPR article. “Either it is still not affordable for them or the insurance they have doesn’t work — or they can’t get care from the health providers that are in their community.”

Bledon, co-director of the survey, added, “Even with major improvements in health insurance coverage over the last decade, it is concerning that one in four rural Americans are struggling to get the health care they need.”

Additional findings include that 18% of respondents said they always or often feel isolated. One-third of rural Americans (33%) said homelessness is a problem in their local community, while more than one in ten have experienced several types of housing problems in their current residence, including the safety of their drinking water (17%) and mold or other environmental problems (16%).

The poll is the second poll in the Life in Rural America series.

Read the full report: Life in Rural America Part II

Read the NPR article: Poll: Many Rural Americans Struggle With Financial Insecurity, Access To Health Care