By Deb Courson Smith

If rural Montana is going to thrive, a new report suggests, it will take a resurgence of young people staying in – or returning to – their hometowns to pursue careers and raise families.

Spokeswoman Alyssa Charney with the Center for Rural Affairs, which released the report, says the population in most rural areas is declining because of lack of access to things such as health care and health insurance.

“A lot of that has to do with young people leaving, not necessarily because they don’t want to be living in those communities, but because the jobs that provide the benefits they need are often located outside of those communities.”

Of the 15 million young adults in America now without health insurance, it’s estimated that 80 percent can get coverage under the Affordable Care Act. One key provision allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Another provision will establish health-care exchanges, which Charney calls critical in rural Montana, where small businesses are plentiful and many people – such as farmers and ranchers – are self-employed.

The good news, Charney says, is the report’s conclusion that the Affordable Care Act will allow much more access to care and insurance for young adults – and that means more life options.

“For young adults, it’s really important that limitations of health insurance shouldn’t be the determining factors on where they choose to live, or the work they want to pursue, or their interests and passions.”

The report on how the Affordable Care Act affects rural young adults, the latest in a series of reports from the Center for Rural Affairs which look at rural health-care issues, is online at files.cfra.org.