Today, the Center for Rural Affairs released a new report that examines how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) impacts seniors in rural communities.

“There has been so much media attention to the difficulties surrounding implementation of the new health insurance marketplaces. Seniors, however, do not have to worry about the ‘issues’ with the exchanges impacting them directly. They can tune out some of that noise and consider the positive benefits that the Affordable Care Act has to offer them.” Jon Bailey, Center for Rural Affairs

“Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010, we have conducted dozens of educational presentations across the Great Plains region,” said Jon Bailey, Director of Rural Research and Analysis at the Center for Rural Affairs and author of the report. “At almost every event a large group of senior citizens has been in attendance with questions about the new law and how it affects them.”

According to Bailey, that fact is not surprising given the demographics of the rural Great Plains. According to the 2010 Census, 19 percent of rural county residents in Great Plains states are 65 or older. Most rural areas of the Great Plains and Midwest are increasingly aging. For example, Nebraska’s rural counties are home to about 41 percent of the state’s total population, but contain nearly two-thirds of the state’s 65 years and older population. In many rural counties at least one in four residents are 65 or older. Most of Nebraska’s rural counties are included in a group of Midwestern and Great Plains rural counties that witnessed the highest increase in median age from 2000 to 2010.

“With increased attention focused on the Affordable Care Act and its operation, and seniors making up one of the largest population cohorts in rural areas, it is reasonable that many of those rural seniors are asking, What does the ACA mean for me?” Bailey explained. “However, most of the provisions of the ACA directly affecting seniors have been in effect since 2010. And other provisions coming now into effect have no bearing on seniors.”

Bailey’s report, “Seniors and the Affordable Care Act,” summarizes how the new healthcare law affects seniors, especially those residing in small towns and rural areas.

To read or download a full copy of the report go to files.cfra.org/pdf/ACA-and-Seniors.pdf

According to Bailey, it is clear that the Affordable Care Act provides a variety of benefits to seniors without imposing additional health insurance coverage obligations. The ACA provides seniors enhanced benefits in terms of wellness and preventive care and referrals to needed specialists. This will be important for rural communities, which have greater percentages of senior citizens as residents than do urban centers, and whose residents generally receive fewer medical screenings and preventive care procedures. The ACA also provides seniors continuing benefits directed at paying the costs of their prescription drugs.

“It also appears that despite early warnings Medicare Advantage plans have not been negatively affected by the ACA in terms of access and enrollment,” Bailey added. “Despite a modest reduction in the number of Medicare Advantage plans, almost all seniors – including rural seniors – continue to have access to Medicare Advantage plans. And rather than declining, the number of seniors enrolling in Medicare Advantage plans is increasing beyond original estimates.”

Bailey explained further that rural seniors should not be apprehensive about the Affordable Care Act. They do not have to concern themselves with the health insurance marketplaces, the largest and, so far, most complicated piece of the law. And the ACA provisions from which seniors can benefit are becoming systematized in their day-to-day Medicare health coverage.