For people in rural communities, the nearest hospital can be over an hour away, leaving them without access to reliable healthcare. As more and more hospitals close, this distance only increases. With the new healthcare bill, even more of these hospitals are being threatened.

Your health may depend on where you live

People living in rural communities have a lower life expectancy compared to those in urban communities. The National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Services studied the variation in life expectancy across Kentucky and found that in rural areas there had been a decrease in life expectancy since 2010. In Appalachian counties specifically, the life expectancy of women decreased by 13 months while urban communities saw an increase in life expectancy of 11 months in the same period.

This is consistent with the National Rural Health Association's research. The National Rural Health Association notes that people in urban communities tend to live two years longer than those in rural areas. Additionally, people in rural America have a higher incidence of chronic disease. 17.8% reported having a chronic condition that prevented them from being able to work and/or carry on normal activities of daily living, this is compared to 13.2% in urban locations. Both the lower life expectancy and the higher incidence of chronic illness could be combated by more reliable access to healthcare.

With rural hospitals shutting down, access to health care becomes even more unreliable

80 Rural hospitals have been forced to shut their doors since 2010, and an additional 673 are in serious jeopardy of doing the same according to the National Rural Health Association.

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A few states are seeing a larger threat than others but none are entirely safe. Mississippi is under the most threat with 79% of rural hospitals likely to close in the next few years. Other states seeing the largest declines include Louisiana and Hawaii, both with 58% of their rural hospitals in danger.

53% of rural hospitals in Georgia are preparing to shut down, 55% in Oklahoma, and 60% in California. This leaves people in what Dr. Alluri Raju, a physician in rural Georgia, describes as a "medical desert." The nearest hospital from his practice in Richland is more than a 45-minute drive away. This means it would take an ambulance at least 90 minutes to get a patient to the hospital for treatment. For many people, this is literally the difference between life and death. Someone suffering from a serious condition such as a heart attack or stroke may not be able to survive an additional 90 minutes to get the treatment they need.

The Senate's new healthcare bill will only increase the threat to rural hospitals

The new health care bill will put rural hospitals in even more jeopardy.

In rural areas, there is a higher number of impoverished people who cannot afford health insurance. Public hospitals are unable to turn away patients regardless of the condition and private hospitals cannot turn away a patient unless they are sure the situation is not life-threatening. As a result, many hospitals open their doors to patients who are not able to pay. When they do this, hospitals end up losing a significant amount of money. With the Affordable Care Act, more patients were able to obtain health insurance, allowing the hospitals to be reimbursed for their treatments thus ensuring they could continue to operate.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the new health care bill will leave 22 million people without insurance within the next ten years. The decrease in the number of insured individuals will correspond with a cut to the funding for both Planned Parenthood and Medicaid. Many people rely upon Medicaid to pay for their medical treatments and rural hospitals need Medicaid to reimburse them so that they can keep accepting new patients. Senator Bernie Sanders describes the new bill as "the most dangerous and harmful piece of legislation I have seen since I have been in the United States Congress."

Senator Sanders's contempt for the new bill is shared by democrats and republicans alike. Maggie Elehwany is the vice president of the government affairs committee of the National Rural Health Association and she deemed the new legislation as "a death sentence for individuals in rural America." The sentiment is echoed by Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia. She warns that this bill not only threatens the citizens of West Virginia but also rural health providers.