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Could A Public Option Health Plan Hurt Rural Hospitals in Virginia?

Wellness GM / Flickr, Creative Commons: flickr.com/photos/130100316@N04/15728773073/

Democrats are divided about how much of America’s health insurance should be run by the government. That’s leaving some industry groups worried about the future of Virginia’s rural hospitals.

As many as 10 rural hospitals in Virginia could close if the federal government starts offering a public option health plan — the kind of public option that’s now being talked about on the campaign trail by former Vice President Joe Biden and others. That’s the conclusion of the Partnership for America’s Health Future.

Lauren Crawford Shaver is the executive director of the partnership, and she says the lower reimbursement rates from the government plan would put a squeeze on rural hospitals.

“Those communities are already typically underserved and do not have access to all of the newest and most advanced medical treatment or physicians and specialists," Crawford Shaver says. "They are going to have to even travel further to get the care that they need and will have fewer options in getting that.”

Sabrina Corlette at Georgetown University says of course the partnership would be opposed to an expanded role for government in health care. It’s a coalition of health-insurance providers, hospitals and Big Pharma.

“You often see them put out studies that would sort of highlight the potential downsides of an increased government role," Corlette explains. "So this is sort of a part of their strategy to create doubts and concerns about things like the public option.”

Democrats are talking about a number of different options on health care. Some would do away with private insurance entirely while others would have some kind of government-run health insurance that competes against private plans in the marketplace.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.