South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s newest plan released Friday morning aims to expand access to healthcare in rural areas. Buttigieg is the latest in a string of Democratic presidential candidates to release policy proposals this week meant to improve rural life.
The gap in life expectancies between rural and urban Americans is the widest it’s been in five decades, according to research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Rural Americans can now expect to live on average two years less than counterparts in the cities. People of color and low-income people can face even worse outcomes.
Buttigieg wants to reverse that trend, by keeping rural hospitals open, recruiting and maintaining more providers in rural areas, and expanding access to critical services, particularly for primary care, maternal health, mental illness and addiction. His plan would also allow for more technology-based health options like telehealth and remote patient monitoring.
“The bottom line is in this country where you live should have no bearing on how healthy you’re going to be, how long you’re going to live,” Buttigieg said. “And if we really want rural America to grow, to be doing well, if we want rural communities to be secure and to expand, then one of the biggest things we’ve got to address is the need to reverse declining health outcomes.”
The Indiana mayor’s rural health plan builds on some of his previously released proposals, including his Medicare For All Who Want It approach and his national service plan. He says the proposal is in line with his efforts to promote equity. Last month Buttigieg released his “Douglas Plan” to counteract the systemic racial inequality that black Americans face.
Buttigieg says part of the spectrum of steps needed to improve healthcare for rural outcomes includes recruiting American-born providers as well as to offer more visas for immigrant doctors to practice in rural areas.
“When we think about the need for skills and talents in rural communities, we need to cultivate homegrown talent and make sure that we’re making the most of highly-skilled immigrants who can be part of population of physicians providing services where they’re desperately needed.”
Researchers have shown that a lower number of providers in a given community can contribute to service cutbacks and hospital closures.
Buttigieg did not specify how much the proposed changes would cost, but said he anticipated some level of savings from “better outcomes” and added that there is “more than enough revenue” available for additional federal funding by reversing the Republican tax cut bill.
Buttigieg released the plan ahead of a multi-day swing through the state that includes stops in communities across Iowa as well as a speech at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair next week.