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GUEST OPINION: Scratch Medicare for All, rural areas need telemedicine

 

The current buzz in Washington and with Democratic presidential candidates is Medicare for All supported by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Guest opinion copy 2Other candidates such as Joe Biden prefer sort of a Medicare for All-Lite called the Public Option, which increases federal control of the U.S. health care system, although not by as much as the single-payer plans advocated by Sanders and Warren.

As someone who lives in rural Pennsylvania, I would ask for the federal government and Congress to step back and rethink these plans. We have had a great deal of federal experimentation since 2010 and frankly, rural health care needs a breather.

Rural areas face difficulties such as lack of providers, distance between patients and health care facilities, and high cost to patient ratios because of a smaller population base. Massive new federal intrusion would most certainly bring new workability issues as well as probably trying to reinvent how people receive and pay for health care.

Rather than having another massive federal makeover of our health care system, I suggest that we let cost-savings innovations of telemedicine continue to evolve. Already, a patient can have direct consultation and diagnostic testing done without the person not having to leave his or her home. Medical advances of telemedicine have been dramatic to rural residents’ benefit.

However, telemedicine does not work where there is no or little access to the Internet or smart phones. This has been called the "digital divide" where rural areas are disadvantaged without access to adequate technology. Instead of considering Medicare for All or the Public Option, perhaps Congress should instead focus on how to achieve universal access to Broadband. That approach would certainly reduce health care costs through telemedicine and it is more down to earth than new grand plans envisioned by some in Washington.

Granted, rural health care issues transcend whether or not telemedicine is the answer. But it is one answer that could be fully realized if Congress makes broadband a reality in rural America. Policymakers in Congress should look at the big picture and think outside their box.

Wayne Campbell is president of the Pennsylvania State Grange.

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