While the Affordable Care Act has increased the number of Americans covered by health insurance, rural residents, including those in Indiana, are being left behind. According to government figures, about 18 million Americans have health insurance coverage today who did not have it prior to the ACA. But Indiana Rural Development State Director Phil Lehmkuhler says a higher percentage of rural residents have no insurance coverage compared to their urban counterparts, “Before the ACA, many rural Hoosiers struggled to find affordable healthcare; but, today, they have access to multiple insurance options. Yet rural Indiana residents have not enrolled in the program to the extent their urban neighbors have.” In 2015, Indiana had the second lowest rural enrollment in the Great Lakes Region, enrolling 39 percent of those eligible compared to 43 percent in neighboring Illinois.
Health and Human Services Region 5 Director Kathleen Falk said the fact that many involved in agriculture are self-employed may be part of the problem, “We know there are many more still without coverage, including many in rural communities.” When asked by HAT why rural residents have been slow to adopt the benefits of the ACA, Falk did not offer a clear-cut reason, “It might be that they just have not heard about the program. It is hard to reach these people in isolated areas.”
She added that the need for health insurance for rural consumers is very real. Rural Americans suffer from higher rates of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure than those living in urban areas do. Prior to the inception of the new Health Insurance Marketplace, on average, rural families paid nearly 50 percent of health care costs out of pocket, and one-in-five farmers was in debt because of medical bills.
Falk urged rural residents to take advantage of the open enrollment period which ends on January 30. Hoosiers have affordable options available to them. More than 6 in 10 Hoosiers will be able to buy a plan for $75 or less a month in premiums after tax credits, and more than 9 out of 10 returning Hoosiers could save an average of $1,042 annually in premiums (before tax credits) for a plan in the same level of coverage by returning to shop. Individuals who can afford to purchase health insurance this year but choose to go without it risk having to pay a fine of $695 or more. For instance, a family of four with an income of $70,000 will pay a fine of about $2,085 for 2016, based on the most recent IRS data.