Barriers to Health Care Access for Rural Medicare Beneficiaries: Recommendations from Rural Health Clinics

Amanda De Lucia News, Rural Hospital, State Office of Rural Health

Between March and April of 2019, a survey of 111 Rural Health Clinic (RHC) representatives across 27 states was administered by the University of Minnesota’s Rural Health Research Center in collaboration with the National Association of Rural Health Clinics (NARHC). The survey intended to identify barriers for Medicare patients in accessing health care services and generate recommendations for improving access to care for Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas. Respondents included clinic managers, medical directors, practice supervisors, and CEOs.

In the survey, RHC staff identified barriers to accessing health care for Medicare beneficiaries. The most common barriers included transportation, cost/payers, workforce issues (e.g., provider shortages), distance/ location, lack of health literacy, patient decisions, and lack of support (e.g., childcare, family support). 

To improve access, responding RHC staff recommended improvements to transportation, recruiting and retaining providers, expanding operations, changing provider payment policies, increasing patient education and awareness, expanding telemedicine, increasing provider communication, and lowering patient costs.