Helping journalists stay on top of health care issues

December 2, 2014

By Al Cross
Into the Issues 

The Rural Blog continues to help rural journalists stay on top of developments in health care, education and the environment, among other issues.

Molly Burchett of our staff, who recently earned her master’s degree in health communication and knows more than most folks about health care and insurance, wrote a journalist’s guide to covering the second open enrollment under the health-reform law. It includes an embeddable calculator from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which readers can use to get an estimate of their eligibility for subsidies and how much they could spend on health insurance. Get the story and the calculator by going to

Health reform has been more problematic for some rural areas because of a limited choice of insurance plans. Now it turns out that farmers, who have an inherently risky job, are less likely to have a regular health-care provider and significantly less likely to visit a dentist for routine care. Those were some findings of a study published in the Journal of Rural Health, and we reported it at

The future of farming and ranching is in the hands of young Americans, many of whom have little to no agriculture experience but are buying land wherever they can find it and learning farming on the fly, Teresa Wiltz reported for Stateline. We took note at

Rural schools have long faced special challenges, and now there’s new one: teaching skills that blend science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM skills. Alexandra Ossola wrote about it for The Atlantic, and we excerpted it at

Your schools may be facing a seasonal challenge, finding substitute teachers to fill in for those who come down with the flu or other winter ailments. TV stations in Wisconsin and North Dakota reported on the problem, and we took note at


Environmental issues

Talk to farmers about public issues and you’re likely to hear about WOTUS—the acronym for “waters of the United States,” which the Clean Water Act is supposed to protect. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule that would include intermittent streams and wetlands in the definition, but so far it has mainly generated confusion and opposition. We are monitoring the issue, and our latest roundup, with links to earlier stories, is at

The issue is among several on which Congress may want to challenge President Obama, but the new Republican majority in the Senate will need Democratic votes to even get bills to his desk, and a lot more to override his vetoes. The Courier-Journal, hometown paper of new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, looked at the prospects and we took note at McConnell’s priority is coal, but the new Senate has fewer Democrats sympathetic to coal, Politico noted, and so did we, at

The oil and gas boom has raised environmental issues; less attention has been paid to issues of workplace safety. Mike Soraghan of Environment & Energy News has been shining a light on such concerns as petroleum poisoning (, the industry’s high rate of deaths from fires and explosions ( and its overall fatality rate (


Interactive maps

One thing we love to do on The Rural Blog is publish or link to interactive maps that give county-by-county data that can open the door to good local stories. They also provide good comparisons with adjoining counties. Following are two recent examples.

Rural America is seeing an influx of immigrants as the country experiences a second wave of immigration, reported USA Today, which created a county-level Diversity Index that measures the chance that two random people in a county are different by race or ethnicity. It’s a fascinating map and story, and it’s at

Rural counties with a lot of federal land get money from the federal government, called payments in lieu of taxes. But the program’s funding expired Sept. 30, and its future is uncertain, Tim Marema reported for the Daily Yonder, which did a nice interactive map that shows the figures for every county. We picked it up at

The Rural Blog is almost entirely about news, but when we see an opinion piece that makes good points, we sometimes take note of it. Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who was a Democratic representative from Kansas, wrote a post-election piece for the Huffington Post about his party’s weakness in rural and small-town America. We excerpted it at

The blog also has news about newspapers and doing journalism. The Advocate-Messenger in Danville, KY, donated its archives to the local library, which is digitizing them; we reported it at

E-mails between and among government officials can be an important key to investigative stories, but state laws on how long such records must be kept vary widely, Jenni Bergal reported for Stateline. Maybe your state’s law needs changing. Read about it at

If you do or see good work that deserves national notice or could help other rural journalists by appearing on The Rural Blog, e-mail me at so we can put it on TRB at


Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before spending 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. See

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