Dwindling Populations Causing Healthcare Issues for Rural Iowa Counties

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- There is a growing trend in the state's population: People are moving from rural areas to urban areas.

This shift is negatively affecting small town health care providers, but a bill signed by Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday could help.

Census data released Thursday shows that 69 of Iowa’s 99 counties, many which are rural, have seen a decrease in population.

This provides three distinct problems for local health boards.

"The people that generally stay here are older, and so that increases their need for healthcare services. As we begin to lose people from the county, that also diminishes the tax base,” said Jotham Arber, Guthrie County Director of Public Health.

Guthrie County lost 2.5 percent of its population. With fewer people to collect taxes from, it runs into problem No. 3.

"We have a challenge keeping doctors. So, as that population gets less, we can pay less to our providers. That creates a challenge of its own,” Arber said.

Branstad signed the Iowa Public Health Modernization Act, which should help rural counties provide better health care. The act would allow counties, especially rural counties, combine its healthcare programs with fewer restrictions. With a bigger regional tax base, it would allow health costs to spread out.

"It may not make sense for every county to have its own separate delivery system. So this way they can merge it, work together, make it more efficient and be able to provide the services at less cost,” Branstad told WHO-TV.

The bill’s architect is Gerd Clabaugh, the Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. He said those services are vital in rural areas.

"At the local level, we're doing with things like infectious disease outbreaks. We're talking about providing services to indigent families, transportation service to get access to healthcare, just a whole variety of activities at the local level,” Clabaugh said.

Branstad hopes these population decreases will turn around with better health care.

"One of the most important things about attracting people to the community, is people want to have a good school and they want to have good health. And we want to be the healthiest state in the nation,” Branstad said.

The bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.

Iowa counties with decreased populations.
Iowa counties with decreased populations.

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