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Rural health care facing big challenges, advocate tells Duluth conference

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The challenges confronting rural health care are not going away -- in fact the squeeze seems to be tightening.

That's what a health policy expert told a Duluth conference Tuesday, MPR reports. The official with the National Rural Health Association told the Minnesota conference that the polarization of Congress has reduced the Washington voices advocating rural health initiatives.

MPR's story says Maggie Elehwany, while giving credit to Minnesota's U.S. Senators, said for the most part those on the far left are focusing on urban priorities and those on the far right back spending cuts.

One specific concern is a proposal to cut the payments that allow many rural hospitals -- Critical Access Hospitals, in federal parlance -- to stay in business. Minnesota is home to 79 such hospitals. The Rural Assistance Center has more on how Critical Access Hospitals work.

Experts warn that a shortage of doctors looms nationwide. Many currently uninsured people will soon gain coverage under the new federal health care law, just as more doctors reach retirement age.

That kind of shortage is already a reality in rural areas which are home to more than 20 percent of Americans but only 10 percent of the country's doctors, the National Rural Health Association says.

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