Obamacare misinformation signals need for explanation

Nov 4, 2013

By Al Cross
Into the Issues 

The botched rollout of the federal government’s health-insurance website created most of the headlines about Obamacare last month, but there was plenty of other information floating around about it—including much misinformation, and even some disinformation. That illustrated the need for journalists at all levels to deliver the facts, or at least references to the facts—especially in rural areas, where people are more likely to lack health insurance and thus benefit from the law.

We wrote about that on The Rural Blog at http://bit.ly/18Ory0f, noted the help of professional fact-checkers at bit.ly/194cast, and provided several factual items to help rural journalists write about the law. That’s especially needed in states that have been resistant to the law, which we noted at bit.ly/18QcD3w. The resistance was partly enabled by the Supreme Court decision that made Medicaid expansion voluntary, and that has left millions of rural poor ineligible for Medicaid or federally subsidized private insurance. We noted that at bit.ly/17xBAlX.

Because many people are unfamiliar with the law or buying health insurance, they may be easy prey for scammers who offer to help them with it, if they will give them some personal information—data that may allow identity theft. We noted that at http://bit.ly/18PwUIg. And we again pointed out a Census Bureau website that gives estimates of how many people are without health insurance in your county. Here’s a short link to the site: 1.usa.gov/15B8Oj7. To get county data, limit the geography to a state and check the Show Counties box.


Schools and libraries

Most candidates for a teaching license are required to pass a written test, but not all would-be teachers have to prove the ability to perform in a classroom before being given a class to teach. Some states are changing that, requiring teachers to complete a performance assessment, but most states with large rural populations or many small school districts have yet to adapt to the changes, Adrienne Lu reported for Stateline. We excerpted her story at bit.ly/1a9nXvX.

One of the longest continuing stories in rural education is school consolidation. It was massive in the middle years of the 20th Century, since then there have been many fewer consolidations despite continued state incentives for districts that merge and penalties for those that don’t. Maggie Clark of Stateline reported on state-versus-local battles and we excerpted her story at bit.ly/18pX43C.

The Department of Agriculture recently started a program to give free or reduced-price lunches to every student in school districts with high percentages of children in poverty, but some districts have been reluctant to take advantage of the program because they have budget constraints and fear having to raise taxes to stay in it. We first wrote about that at bit.ly/pjp0Bt, and recently followed up at bit.ly/18OxNRJ with Education Week’s report that many more children were getting breakfast at schools that have joined the program.

Whatever the changes in rural American communities, the public library remains one constant that has something for everybody. There are 8,956 public libraries in the U.S., with 77.1 percent considered small (populations less than 25,000) and 46.8 percent in areas categorized as rural, according a report by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. We wrote about it at bit.ly/1dbNVQH.

The institute recently released what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind report on computer use at rural libraries, showing that it was rising faster at rural libraries than urban ones. This seems like a report that could be replicated in every rural community, and we noted it at bit.ly/1bEEtlz.


Real estate and banks

Years of continually rising farmland prices in the Corn Belt and the Northern Plains have led some to fear a real-estate bubble is building, and now that some crop prices have dropped, those worries have increased, William Watts reported for The Wall Street Journal. We excerpted the story at bit.ly/1dfI398.

Land values are of major interest to rural banks, which have been doing well not just because crop prices have been high but because they are offering a personal touch that larger banks can’t afford to offer, Brendan Greeley reported for Bloomberg Businessweek. Even though the number of U.S. banks has dropped from 12,000 to 6,000 since 1980, community banks, defined by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as having less than $1 billion in assets, hold 70 percent of the deposits in rural areas. We excerpted the story at bit.ly/1dfI398.


Police and the mentally ill

Is your jail becoming an asylum? The Wall Street Journal reported recently that local jails have become de facto mental institutions, with the percentage of inmates who have mental-health issues running as high as 50 percent. We excerpted the story at bit.ly/1arUGti.

Law-enforcement officers are being called to more and more scenes involving the mentally ill; in some areas, 20 percent of police calls involve the mentally ill. But many officers aren’t trained how to handle such situations, and USA Today reported on it. We excerpted the story at bit.ly/1co8uc9.

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 and a notification. If you do or see good rural journalism, tell us about it so we can put it on The Rural Blog at irjci.blogspot.com.


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.