Quality and convenient healthcare has always been a challenge in rural America. Having been raised on a humble cotton farm in west Texas, I learned the problems of rural healthcare first-hand, and I have struggled with them as a family practice doctor for more than 20 years.
Sadly, government regulations and especially the policies of the Obama administration are making the problems of rural healthcare worse. Higher costs, cumbersome federal regulations, and now the prospect of even lower Medicare reimbursements are placing many of Texas’s rural hospitals in jeopardy of closing.
With each passing week, the administration’s signature “Obamacare” law unravels a little more. As the administration scrambles to enact these costly and intrusive regulations, the quality and patient choice of our healthcare continues to erode.
The effects of Obamacare hit rural Texans especially hard. Already this massive government takeover of healthcare is leading to higher insurance premiums for individuals and businesses. Federal mandates are causing employers to trim their fulltime workforce and inhibiting small businesses from growing.
Now, the Obama administration has singled-out rural America to suffer an even greater burden by issuing a new recommendation that would cut the Medicare reimbursements received by rural hospitals.
Rural hospitals require these Medicare reimbursements to survive. As many as 50 percent of the patients served by rural hospitals are covered by Medicare. Unlike their urban counterparts, rural hospitals do not provide the kinds of procedures that bring higher revenue, such as highly technical surgeries. Rather, our focus in rural areas is providing emergency care to save lives, and serving the outpatient and inpatient needs of the local community.
As a result, rural hospitals run very tight budgets. I know this first-hand having served many years on the board of directors for a rural hospital and as chief of staff.
In one recent report (Texas Tribune, 9-10-13), a representative of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals concluded that Obama’s proposed policy would shutter 50 or 60 hospitals in rural Texas.
Make no mistake—this would be disastrous. Rural hospitals play a vital role in rural healthcare. In a life-threatening emergency, having access to a hospital within about 30 miles can mean the difference between life and death.
As a rural physician and state legislator, I am appalled that the Obama administration would propose such a reckless recommendation. But I am not surprised at its lack of interest and awareness of rural healthcare needs.
As your state representative, I am working on a proposal that would free Texas from many of Obamacare’s intrusive regulations by enacting a Texas-based solution to meet the healthcare challenge.
The only sure way to stop Obamacare and other intrusive federal regulations from destroying rural healthcare is to solve these problems ourselves. That is my commitment.
In the meantime, please join me in voicing your opposition to Washington, D.C. Call or write the White House and tell President Obama that rural Americans deserve better. Contact our U.S. Senators and Congressmen to thank them for their opposition to Obamacare and encourage them to keep up the good fight.
J.D. Sheffield is a family physician and medical director at Coryell Medical Clinic, and Texas State Representative for District 59.