Be aware of health care changes

Other Voices

First, some background. If you live in a rural area in Pennsylvania, you are not alone.

Pennsylvania is one of the most rural states in the nation. For every 100 persons living in Pennsylvania, 27 of them are in a rural area.

Rural Pennsylvania, you likely know, has much to offer that many people value: close-knit communities; beautiful countryside; and strong families, places of worship, and schools, to name just a few reasons.

But there also are challenges in rural areas. Communities are spread out, more residents are older and have more health issues than those who live in cities, and rural residents may have less money to pay for everything they need or health insurance to pay for all of their health care needs.

And it may be harder to find a physician or a hospital that is close by.

You, or someone in your family, may have some of the most common health conditions seen in rural Pennsylvania, where more people have cancer, may be overweight, or have heart disease or diabetes than do people who live in cities.

Employer-sponsored insurance is less common in rural areas, in part because of the greater proportion of small businesses, lower wages and self-employment. As a result, government-sponsored programs and public policies have primarily been responsible for providing health insurance for rural Pennsylvanians.

Also, the U.S. Census Bureau found that in 2014, nearly 12 percent of rural Pennsylvania’s working age adults (18 to 64 years old) had no health insurance.

What about the kids?

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a health insurance program that provides insurance to children whose parents do not have it paid either privately or through an employer, and who are not eligible for Medicaid, which is known in Pennsylvania as the “Medical Assistance” program. In 2015, approximately 300,000 children in Pennsylvania were enrolled in CHIP, lowering the uninsured rate for rural children to 6 percent.

Second, some recent history on why you should become informed now.

In March of 2010, the federal government passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which made health insurance available and affordable to many people who did not have it.

It also increased the amount of money that states received for Medicaid which opened the door for more low-income and disabled people to get health insurance and health care services.

In May 2013, nearly 1 of every 5 people in rural Pennsylvania, that’s 661,135 rural residents, were eligible for the Medical Assistance program.

The federal government has proposed a new health insurance law, the American Health Care Act of 2017, which will lower the amount of money available to pay for health insurance and may make it more expensive for some people to have health insurance, especially people who are over the age of 65 or who have a lot of health problems.

Third, why pay attention now?

The new legislation being proposed is being discussed right now in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Senate. A vote is expected as soon as next week. The proposals are changing as voting time approaches, and keeping up with them isn’t easy – but what gets adopted may change your life.

According to the federal government’s Office of Management and Budget, one result from the newly proposed legislation will be that 23 million fewer Americans will have health insurance over the next 10 years, including many Pennsylvanians.

Here is a website that tries to keep up to date on this fast-moving legislation: http://www.kff .org /health-reform/press-release /compare-key-elements-of-aca-repeal-and-replace-proposals-with-new-interactive-tool/.

Whether you believe that the ACA is currently meeting your needs or the proposed AHCA is a better choice, we urge you to express yourself. Your senators value hearing from you. Sen. Pat Toomey can be reached at 202-224-4254 or https://www.toomey.

senate.gov/?p=contact and Sen. Robert Casey can be reached at 202-224-6324 or https://www .casey.senate.gov/contact/.