The Other Health Care Attack

Red states are really feeling the heat on Medicaid expansion.

Red States Are Really Feeling The Heat On Medicaid Expansion

Despite all the justified attention for King v. Burwell, it is not the only way that conservatives stand in the way of ensuring more people receive quality, affordable health care. A number of states where conservatives have so far refused to close the health care coverage gap are taking a second look.

Like many states that have yet to accept federal funding to provide coverage for low-income working Americans recalcitrant Florida officials are starting to realize that refusing expansion comes with serious costs. If Florida does not significantly change its Medicaid program by the end of June, the state will lose $1 billion in federal funds used to help pay for uninsured hospital patients. The cold, hard math behind expansion is forcing the State Senate to reconsidering its opposition to expanding Medicaid, despite continued stonewalling from the State House and Governor Rick Scott (R).

A mix of hope and worry is present in a number of other states considering expansion:

  • Alaska: Last month, Governor Bill Walker (I) released a report showing that closing the coverage gap would save Alaska millions. Republicans in the legislature used procedural maneuvers to temporarily bottle up the funds to pay for it and Americans for Prosperity’s Alaska branch, the Koch-funded right-wing group, has campaigned against expansion.
  • Kansas: Despite continued conservative opposition, the State House has scheduled two hearings on Medicaid expansion. Governor Sam Brownback (R), who campaigned hard against expansion in his re-election campaign, has recently signaled that he could be open to expansion, provided that it is paid for.
  • Utah: While Governor Gary Herbert (R) and the Republican-controlled State Senate both support a real Medicaid expansion plan, a vote on Medicaid expansion on a State House panel failed, while an alternative plan that would not make a real dent at cutting the number of uninsured Utahns passed through a House panel.

While a number of states are wrestling with what’s really an easy decision, Georgia represents a cautious tale of how ideology hurts real people and costs real money. Under Governor Nathan Deal (R) and a Republican-dominated legislature, Georgia has yet to expand health care to low-income residents. As a result, Georgia’s rural hospitals are in a state of crisis. Instead of proposing a real solution, Governor Deal’s solution is to make rural hospitals more efficient by using telemedicine and relying on school nurses to provide general care. While these solutions are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, they don’t put rural hospitals back on track in Georgia, while expansion in nearby, red-leaning states Arkansas and Kentucky has been great for rural health care networks.

BOTTOM LINE: When states choose to accept federal funding to close the coverage gap, it cuts the uninsured rate and provides stability to people who cannot afford health insurance. In addition, this move helps save states money and make rural health care networks more solvent. States that continue to put ideology over providing care and saving lives will continue to feel the costs.

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