Rural Tennessee doctor fears for patients over proposed Medicaid cuts

Last Updated Jun 23, 2017 7:35 PM EDT

JACKSON, Tenn. -- Dr. Gregg Mitchell practices family medicine in west Tennessee. Two-thirds of his patients rely on Medicaid. 

Mitchell says he sees patients "up to 90 miles away."

"They have to travel for services here to come to our hospital and our clinic" because their own hospitals have closed, he said.

In the last four years, four rural hospitals within an hour's drive of Mitchell's clinic have shut down. Jackson-Madison County Hospital, the major health care facility between Memphis and Nashville, serves 17 counties and attracts Medicaid patients like 22-year-old Jodi Maness.

Her blood pressure is high. Two weeks ago, she gave birth to Charlee. She worries that if she loses Medicaid, the cost of visiting a doctor will soar. 

strassmann-medicaid-rural-2017-6-23.jpg

Dr. Gregg Mitchell takes Jodi Maness' blood pressure. 

CBS News

One in five Tennesseans rely on Medicaid, about average for a  U.S. state. Medicaid covers half of Tennessee children living in small towns and rural areas. One estimate says 37 more Tennessee hospitals risk major cuts or closure under the Senate health care bill

Mitchell worries especially for mothers in labor.

"It will be an issue for them delivering babies in cars and ambulances because of the amount of distance they would have to travel to obtain care," Mitchell says. 

But how do you convince people who don't live in rural areas to care about rural areas? "That's a great question because they don't see that need," Mitchell says.

Jodi Maness sees it. Little Charlee is supposed to see Dr. Mitchell again next month.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.