The following op-ed was written by Leon Lamoreaux, the Medicaid Plan President for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Kentucky which serves more than 160,000 Medicaid beneficiaries.
For generations, Kentucky’s rural communities have been built by families, separated by miles and miles from the nearest city. Those miles of separation are both a blessing and a burden. Families enjoy wide open spaces and a different pace of life, but amenities like hospitals and health specialists can be far from home. Visiting a doctor or hospital can be a challenge because of the distance and expense. Here in Kentucky, that distance and availability of healthcare resources put rural residents at a health disadvantage.
Today, Kentucky hospitals report a 10 to 40 percent vacancy rate of nursing positions, with the highest need found in rural areas. Healthcare researchers estimate that Kentucky’s rural communities will need another 40 primary care professionals to properly serve the population. That shortage translates to some 102,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky who lack sufficient access to a primary care provider.
The Kentucky Center for Statistics estimates that eastern Kentucky alone will require nearly 2,000 more nursing jobs by 2024 — less than three years from now.
Kentuckians who live in rural communities deserve reliable access to adequate healthcare, and to meet those needs, we must expand the pipeline of healthcare professionals. That’s why Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is launching the Anthem Rural Medicine Scholarship program with two eastern Kentucky educational institutions. By funding education for future healthcare workers, we can grow the number of practicing professionals in rural Kentucky, improve health outcomes and strengthen the communities we serve.
The Anthem Rural Medicine Scholarships at Hazard Community and Technical College and Eastern Kentucky University are drawn from new Anthem-funded endowments, which means the funds for supporting new healthcare students will last for years, not just for the next few semesters.
Scholarship recipients are required to practice in a federally recognized shortage area for a minimum of three years post-graduation, creating primary care access to at least 7,500 rural Kentuckians each year.
Leslie County native Kimberly Caldwell was among the first scholarship recipients. “This scholarship will allow me to work toward my dreams to become a nurse, without having to worry about the financial burden that can come with getting an education,” said Ms. Caldwell.
I was honored to meet Ms. Caldwell and congratulate her on serving the region she loves.
Rural Kentucky is full of unparalleled natural beauty as well as thousands of hardworking families and individuals who treasure their small towns. By funding education for future rural health providers, Anthem is helping to build brighter futures for all Kentucky families — no matter where they live.