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New Health Care Rules Pose Challenge for Some Rural School Districts

New federal requirements to offer health insurance to employees could be particularly difficult for rural school districts, many of which have seen flat or declining funds in recent years.

The Affordable Care Act, championed by President Barack Obama, requires businesses with the equivalent of 50 or more full-time workers to offer an affordable health plan or face consequences. Those new rules also apply to public employers such as school districts, and they go into effect in 2014.

[UPDATE (July 7): The Obama administration has announced it will delay implementation of that requirement from 2014 until 2015.]

The mandate will be troublesome for some rural school districts and education cooperatives because officials say they have few ways of increasing revenue, according to a recent Kansas Health Institute story that explored the issue.

"A lot of the districts and co-ops are looking at various options, including the option of getting out of offering health insurance and acknowledging that the most economical step for them is to pay the penalty and have their employees go to the exchange and get what's available through the marketplace," said David Shriver, assistant executive director for insurance services at the Kansas Association of School Boards, in the story.

These issues should be less pronounced in bigger districts because: 1. they already have insurance plans that meet federal standards, and, 2. they have more money for attorneys and consultants to figure out solutions, according to the article.

U. S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius spoke last week to the National Rural Assembly about the legislation, saying it was important for rural America because residents are more likely to be uninsured and have more health problems, according to The Daily Yonder.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which is based at the University of Kentucky, has compiled stories about what the law means for rural health.

I would expect to more stories as school districts begin to try to implement the legislation. We'll keep tabs on those to see what kind of creative solutions rural schools find.

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