I love living and working in rural West Virginia. The open spaces, the feeling of community, and the strong agricultural heritage and values are just three of the many reasons that make me happy to call my rural community home.
And during this weeks’ Rural Health Week, I’m especially proud to add another reason to that list: affordable health insurance options that give rural families like mine piece of mind, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
Quality health care is critical to the health of rural children and families and the strength of our communities — and open enrollment to get health insurance coverage only happens once each year. From now until Jan. 31, 2016, you can sign up for an affordable plan that’s right for you and your family.
Even if you currently have coverage, you should still go back and check to see if you qualify for a plan that can save you money. In fact, more than 7 in 10 returning Marketplace customers will be able to buy a plan for $75 or less a month in premiums after tax credits.
Before the ACA, many rural Americans struggled to find affordable health care, paying nearly half of all medical costs out of their own pockets on average. Many self-employed farmers, ranchers and rural small business owners — some of the most critical contributors to strong rural economies — did not have access to the affordable insurance options that many people get through their employers.
Too often, getting quality care in a rural community came with a high price tag. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act, rural Americans now have better access to a wide variety of affordable health insurance options, more doctors and nurses, and comprehensive prevention and wellness services at health care providers.
More than 7.8 million uninsured rural Americans under 65 have gained new opportunities to enroll in affordable health care in the past year. And nationwide, an estimated 17.6 million Americans have found health coverage.
The ACA has also strengthened plans and access to critical services for Americans who already had health insurance. About 30 million rural Americans who already had private insurance now have access to expanded preventive services with no cost sharing, such as blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, important women’s health screenings, and flu shots for children and adults, and more than 11 million elderly and disabled rural Americans receiving coverage from Medicare now have access to preventive services with no cost sharing too.
This includes annual wellness visits with personalized prevention plans, diabetes and cancer screening, and bone mass measurement.
Rural Americans can no longer be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition and nearly 600,000 young rural Americans between ages 19 and 26 now have coverage under their parent’s employer-sponsored or individually purchased health plans. Lifetime and annual limits can no longer be included in private insurance policies.
Picking a plan and signing up for coverage is now easier than ever — you can even enroll via cell phone. And there’s financial help available, too. Financial help is available to make coverage more affordable through HealthCare.gov.
The Affordable Care Act gives hard-working rural families in West Virginia the financial security and peace of mind they deserve. It makes rural communities stronger and rural families healthier.
If you or someone you know is still uninsured, don’t wait another day. If you or someone you know needs health insurance, now’s the time to sign up.
Find out more at HealthCare.gov or 1-800-318-2596 before Jan. 31, 2016, because no one should go without health care because of where they live, or be forced to leave the communities they love to get the coverage they need.
Richard V. Snuffer II is the executive director of the West Virginia USDA, Farm Service Agency, He can be reached by calling 304-284-4802.