As Congress considers cutting Medicaid by nearly $1 trillion, a new study shows the health care program plays a larger role in covering people in rural communities than in metropolitan areas.
In Colorado, 42 percent of children in small towns rely on Medicaid, compared to 35 percent in cities. Scott Bookman, CEO at the Uncompahgre Medical Center, which serves Colorado’s largely rural Western Slope, said the proposed cuts would make it hard to keep the doors open.
“If we continue to go down this road of cutting Medicaid benefits, we are ultimately going to see more care transferred back into the emergency departments, where care is significantly more costly and less effective in the long run,” Bookman said.
The research by Georgetown University and the University of North Carolina found that Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act helped decrease the number of uninsured people in rural areas, especially kids. Bookman noted that before the ACA, health centers frequently faced budget shortfalls when patients without coverage couldn’t pay their bills.
Joan Alker, research professor and executive director at the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said the study confirms that Medicaid – which also provides long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities – is the backbone of health insurance in rural areas.
She said, unlike cities, many small towns have not yet fully recovered from the Great Recession.
“Because incomes tend to be lower and jobs are more scarce, particularly good jobs that provide health insurance, we see both higher rates of uninsurance in these communities, but we also see a greater and very vital role for the Medicaid program.”
– Joan Alker
“Because incomes tend to be lower and jobs are more scarce, particularly good jobs that provide health insurance, we see both higher rates of uninsurance in these communities, but we also see a greater and very vital role for the Medicaid program.” Alker said.
She said Medicaid makes it easier for families to afford health care for kids, which leads to better economic outcomes down the road. She added that children who have access to health care do better in school, from higher rates of high school graduation to higher incomes when they grow up.
Public News Service – CO