National Rural Health Day: Making Access to Care a Priority
Transforming Communities, Health & Wellness
Fifteen percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This population disproportionately faces increased healthcare challenges. That’s more than 46 million Americans facing higher rates of heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, and more.
That’s why National Rural Health Day, and its mission to raise awareness and address the unique healthcare challenges faced in rural communities, is so important.
Centene has long been committed to improving healthcare accessibility, as part of our mission to transform the health of the community, one person at time. Rural communities are ground zero for that effort. We recently sponsored the inaugural Rural Health Symposium and four related webinars, bringing together leaders from rural communities and healthcare experts to discuss approaches to improving health and economic vitality in non-metropolitan areas.
In truth, finding ways to improve healthcare and healthcare access in rural communities is part of Centene’s DNA. Today, we serve more than 4 million members who live in rural areas.
Earlier this year, we formed the National Rural Health Advisory Council (NRHAC), which will strive to advance rural health and ensure a comprehensive approach to tackling the accessibility issues faced by rural residents. The NRHAC will also provide guidance and insight to Centene leadership on how to best serve rural communities and improve rural healthcare systems, which can then be transformed by our Health Plans into initiatives and innovations.
It’s a critical priority. There have been 138 rural hospital closures since 2010, and 80% of rural counties in the US are designated primary care physician shortage areas. Supporting rural hospitals is why we are building Rural Hospital Transformation Partnerships in Georgia and Missouri. Meanwhile, we also provided grants for rural providers in five states in the South and Midwest to support investment costs related to remote patient monitoring, hot spot devices and tablets.
In one Texas community, we initiated a pilot program to train volunteer drivers to become community health workers, addressing a key social determinant of health - lack of transportation. The program extends the reach of a local behavioral health clinic and a Federally Qualified Health Center, making it easier for patients to access health and social services. We also increased the scope of community health worker services to include prescription pick up, telehealth set up and referring patients to other social service supports.
If this pilot and others like it are successful, we will seek to scale them across the U.S. They will join a long list of programs geared toward helping improve healthcare in rural America, including:
- Collaborative Health Systems (CHS), a Centene subsidiary, has partnered with the Illinois Rural Community Care Organization (IRCCO) to expand care in the state. Through the agreement, rural and critical access hospitals and providers entered a joint partnership with IRCCO and CHS to help improve quality outcomes and lower healthcare costs for Medicare beneficiaries.
- Home State Health partnered with technology and healthcare company Babylon to increase access to primary care in 10 counties in Southeast Missouri. Through Babylon’s mobile application-based telehealth platform, Home State Health members can access their primary care providers through their smartphone any time, day or night.
- Peach State Health Plan is supporting the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University through a program that will expand and accelerate medical education for more than 300 students pursuing primary care disciplines. Upon graduation, the newly graduated medical professionals will practice in rural communities to improve care in those areas.
- Western Sky Community Care, in collaboration with the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center and New Mexico Department of Health, is partnering with federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and community hospitals to offer primary care and social services to uninsured New Mexicans not eligible for government-sponsored health insurance.
The healthcare challenges facing rural America are significant, but at Centene, we’re taking them on – every day and in every rural community we serve.