From the beginning under ObamaCare rural residents throughout the nation have had fewer choices for health care coverage and have been charged considerably higher premiums than those in urban areas.

As insurers flee the ObamaCare market there is even less competition and still higher rates.

It has reached the point that in 2017 a majority of Nevada counties — Esmeralda, Mineral, Humboldt, Pershing, Churchill, Lincoln, White Pine, Eureka, Lander, and Elko — will have only one firm offering coverage under the ObamaCare program.

To ameliorate the blow to residents of single-provider counties nationwide, Nevada Republican Reps. Joe Heck, Mark Amodei and Cresent Hardy a couple of weeks ago introduced a bill that amends the Internal Revenue Code to exempt those residents from the requirement to pay a tax penalty if they fail to maintain minimum health coverage under ObamaCare, or as it is laughably titled, the Affordable Care Act.

Heck is running for the Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Harry Reid, who rammed through ObamaCare — using deals such as the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase — without obtaining the vote of a single Republican.

The bill is called Protection from Insurance Exchange Monopolies Act, H.R. 6049. It has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

In the coming year there will be only three companies offering ObamaCare coverage in Nevada — Anthem, Health Plan of Nevada, and Prominence Health Plan (formerly St. Mary’s). In the 10 counties listed above the only carrier option is Anthem.

All three congressmen commented on the necessity of their bill in a press release.

“The better way to solve rural Nevada’s access to health care is to replace Obamacare with a fairer and more patient-centered approach,” Hardy said. “But as long as ObamaCare is the law, Nevadans shouldn’t be forced to pay a tax on a monopoly caused by a government mandate that forced out other competition. All Nevadans, and particularly those in our rural communities, deserve access to more health care choices and lower health care costs.”

“The Affordable Care Act promised Nevadans more healthcare choices and lower costs but, as expected, we now know those promises were empty” Heck said. “Nevadans in 10 counties will be living under an ObamaCare insurance monopoly in 2017 and it is unfair to inflict a penalty tax on residents in counties with only one carrier option. This is yet another example of the failures of the ACA and highlights the urgent need to replace the broken parts of the law with healthcare reforms that actually expand access to quality, affordable care.”

“President Obama promised his healthcare law would bring Americans ‘more choice’, ‘more competition’, and ‘real health care security,’” Amodei said.  “Despite the president’s assurances, ObamaCare has delivered nothing more than higher premiums and less choices – with millions of Americans having even fewer choices in 2017. In Nevada, ObamaCare will soon be leaving residents in 10 counties with only one choice – choose what Washington says is right for them – or pay the penalty. By allowing people who reside in areas with less than two provider options to be exempt from the individual mandate, our bill provides much needed relief to those who have been left with no alternative.”

Repealing ObamaCare is the preferred solution, but this is a worthy patch in the meantime.

Adding further problems for rural communities, in January the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services changed the reimbursement process for medical suppliers. CMS is now using bids from metro areas to start cutting reimbursement rates in rural areas.

But providing care in rural areas can be more expensive due to distances between patients and providers and the time and expense it takes to cover those distances. The Medicare reimbursement rate has been cut by more than 50 percent for many items.

Health care providers are hoping Congress remedies the devastating cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates that are impacting medical suppliers throughout the country. Many providers are cutting services or refusing to take new patients. Some are even closing their doors.

Congress needs to act on both of these problems for rural America.

— TM