The Rio Grande Sun of Espanola, New Mexico, is “one tough weekly,” reports Joel Campbell in the online version of the Columbia Journalism Review. The newspaper, located north of Santa Fe, is featured in the documentary film “The Sun Never Sets.” (Above is the film’s trailer.) Campbell reports: “The filmmaker, Ben Daitz, chronicles the work of hardworking journalists in a place that seems to be a magnet for corruption, cronyism, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Or maybe it’s no more a magnet for such things than some other places, but just happens to have a fiercely dedicated watchdog that takes its First Amendment role seriously.”


Report Threatens Rural Hospitals, Rural Health Association Says. Medicare should reevaluate the status of hundreds of critical access hospitals in rural communities and consider removing them from the list of facilities that receive extra payments for treating Medicare patients, a report says.

But critics of the report from the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services say the proposal will result in the closure of hospitals and the loss of medical care for underserved communities.

The critical access hospital program gives higher Medicare payments to small institutions that are at least 35 miles (less if the roads are bad) from another facility. Until 2006 governors could also designate facilities as critical access hospitals, even though they didn’t meet the distance requirements. The program was designed to stop a spate of rural hospital closures that occurred in 1980s and 90s.

The HHS report says that two thirds of the nation’s 1,329 critical access hospitals would not meet the distance requirements if they had to re-enroll in the program today. The report says the government should review the status of these hospitals to make sure they are necessary to provide adequate healthcare services for underserved communities.

A spokesperson for the National Rural Health Association told Kaiser Health News that the proposal to change the status of critical access hospitals could be devastating. “We are alarmed by the message this is sending to rural America,” says Brock Slabach, senior vice president of the National Rural Health Association. “Using Missouri as an example, roughly 70 percent of the rural critical access hospitals in that state alone would lose their designation, and face possible closure.  Does that sound rational to anyone living outside of Washington, DC?”

President Obama has recommended a more modest revision of the critical access hospital program – eliminating critical access hospitals that are within 10 miles of another facility. That proposal could affect 61 hospitals.

 Governor Candidate Visits Rural Areas. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was in rural parts of the state yesterday after officially launching his re-election bid. The Democratic governor spent time explaining decisions he made last year to support gun control and to stay the execution of murderer who is “severely bipolar.” Those decisions make him less popular in rural areas, “where people have voiced some of the strongest opposition to his policies,” reports Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press.

Comcast Drops RFD-TV in New Mexico, Colorado. Comcast cable company has dropped the RFD-TV channel from its lineup in Colorado and New Mexico.  A spokesman for Rural Media Group, which owns the channel, said they found out when viewers started contacting them to complain.

Patrick Gottsch, founder of Rural Media Group, said RFD-TV was the top channel for viewer 50 and older. RFD says it’s “the nation’s only channel devoted to rural America and western-lifestyle programming.”

Social Security Reaches 78th Anniversary. Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law 78 years ago this week – August 14, 1935. About 62 million Americans receive some form of benefit through the Social Security Administration. The administration’s programs are especially important in rural areas, where a larger than average proportion of the population receives Social Security. In 2009, according to a Daily Yonder study, Old Age, Survivor and Dependent Insurance accounted for 9.3% of the personal income of residents in rural counties (noncore counties with no cities larger than 25,000). That’s almost twice the rate found in metropolitan counties.

The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), which funded the Daily Yonder’s study, has released the results of a public opinion poll of Americans’ attitudes toward Social Security. The survey found broad support for improving benefits. More than four in five respondents said it’s critical to preserve Social Security even if it means increasing Social Security payroll taxes. 

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