Rural health care challenges


Extending insurance benefits to more people through health care reform will not necessarily guarantee access to health services. Minnesota’s medically underserved populations are concentrated in rural and inner-city areas. The reasons for the disparities differ in each region and reach beyond just inadequate insurance.

There are a combination of statistics to consider, such as a low primary care to population ratio, high infant mortality rates and significant populations that are elderly or below the poverty level.

Challenges to providing and receiving health care in rural areas include inadequate transportation, especially when commuting to remote locations; clinic hours; availability of providers; lack of knowledge about services; and sometimes language barriers, according to the Healthier Minnesota Community Fund.

The biggest consequence for those in limited access areas is a lack of preventive care. When the uninsured and underinsured require medical attention, they may require more expensive treatment because preventive care was omitted or delayed.

J.H. Fonkert from the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care at the Minnesota Department of Health stresses the importance of Rural Minnesota’s Health Care Workforce and identifies two strategies for alleviating physician shortages in rural Minnesota:  1) attracting young professionals to medical careers and 2) encouraging health care professionals to work and stay in rural areas. New federal health care reforms provide incentives for doing this.

As Minnesota 2020 had highlighted in a previous report, retaining health care professionals in rural areas is difficult when nearly two-thirds of primary care physicians in the U.S. are specialists.  One of the biggest gaps is in rural mental health service providers.

Extending preventive care to underserved areas and populations is a necessity. As Minnesota moves forward to incorporate federal policy, it must solve health care disparities that reach beyond just access to insurance.

Additional Links:

Dental professional shortage areas

Primary care professional shortage areas