Find out how many of your neighbors lack health coverage

October 10, 2013

Barring any unlikely, last-minute moves in Washington, people in your community are now checking out the state health-benefits exchanges created under the federal health reform law, and some have likely bought insurance from these online marketplaces—and have probably gotten federal subsidies for it. Or, if your state has expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, they have signed up for that.

An estimated 48 million Americans have no health coverage of any kind, and getting them covered is a main goal of the law. Rural Americans are more likely to lack coverage, but how many people in your county fit that description? There are estimates for that, too, from the Census Bureau, and we wrote about it on The Rural Blog at

The health law and health insurance are complex subjects, and newspapers need to help readers understand them. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which has proven itself to be a reliable source of health information, is doing a series of webinars to help journalists cover the basics. The webinars are archived for later viewing, and we wrote about them at

The grassroots efforts to educate people about an important subject that has been highly politicized from the start haven’t gotten much news coverage, but there’s a story about it in in every community. All you have to do is find out who the exchange-paid “navigators” are and go along with them as they do their work. You can read examples of such coverage at

Food: Just as people without health insurance can live under our radar, without much notice, so do people who don’t have a regular, stable supply of affordable food. And that’s getting worse in rural areas, because poverty in rural America is going up while the rate in the rest of the nation is declining.

About 48 million people are in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, generally known as food stamps, and more than half the counties with the highest concentrations of food insecurity are rural, according to the nation’s largest network of food banks. Congress is debating cuts to the program. The food-bank network has created an interactive map showing the percentage of people in each county who have food insecurity, and we wrote about it at

Often, the food our children eat isn’t the most nutritious, so the federal school-lunch program has been changed to cut back on fats and red meat while increasing vegetables and whole grains. But that has brought complaints from some students and parents. If you haven’t done a story about the changes in what children are eating at school, it’s time. We did at

More local data, and editorial leadership: Immigration, both legal and illegal, and state-to-state migration are increasing the number of households in which English is not the primary language. The Washington Post recently updated its interactive map showing the counties where more than 10 percent of the people speak a language other than English at home. We took note of it at

Coal mines and related industries are big employers in much of rural America, but coal jobs are shrinking because of market conditions, driven in part by new pollution controls. The Denver Post did a good map showing where mines and plants have been closed, and we showcased it at

Nowhere is the coal industry in more trouble than in Central Appalachia, and the Harlan (KY) Daily Enterprise asked its readers for “your thoughts and suggestions as letters to the editor on where we need to go and how we should get there.” We took note at

Another small daily, the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, KY, went after a local school system’s policy of having its community relations director present for all interviews with school employees, which the paper said “puts a chill on the natural conversation that should happen between a news reporter and a story subject.” The editorial noted that it’s a national problem. We excerpted it at

Also on the education front, at least 45 states have adopted the new Common Core Standards for mathematics, English and language arts, but the standards are coming under attack from social conservatives. Newspapers need to write more about the standards so their readers will understand them, wrote Lynn Richardson, publisher of the Jonesborough (TN) Herald and Tribune, in her latest column as president of the Tennessee Press Association. We picked up The Tennessee Press at

The weekly News and Press in Darlington, SC, showed the power of newspapers when the county sheriff called on it to help clear out old arrest warrants through a public notice in the paper. It got a lot more response than a notice on the sheriff’s website. The idea drew national notice, and we wrote about it at

You’re welcome to reprint our Rural Blog items as news; they always contain credit for the original source, and if you use one, we’d appreciate a credit line. If you do or see good rural journalism, please tell us about it so we can put it on the blog at

Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before working 26 years at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Since 2004 he has been director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky.

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