Medicaid cuts number of uninsured Ohio workers

The number of Ohio workers who were employed but uninsured fell sharply in the first full year of expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to a report released Wednesday by Families USA.

On average, the rate of uninsured, mostly low-wage workers, fell by 25 percent in the 26 states that expanded Medicaid in 2014, the non-profit health care advocacy group found. That was about twice the rate of decline in non-expansion states, where the share of uninsured workers was cut by an average of 13 percent, according to the report.

In Ohio, the number of uninsured workers in the first year of expansion fell by more than 145,000, or 22 percent, compared to the previous year.

“This is dramatic proof that states that accepted Medicaid expansion are putting themselves on a path toward building a healthier, more productive work force,” said Dee Mahan, Families USA director of Medicaid advocacy.

Expansion in Ohio was pushed through by Governor John Kasich, a Republican candidate for president, who said he opposes the health care law, although Medicaid expansion wouldn’t be possible without it.

Kasich’s move to lobby the state Controlling Board to accept federal money to pay for expansion was criticized as illegally bypassing the legislature, igniting a political firestorm among many of his fellow Republican lawmakers, who are also largely opposed to the health reform law.

Still, over the past two years, more than 600,000 Ohioans have signed up for Medicaid under expanded eligibility requirements that allow most able bodied adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — or $27,724 for a family of three in 2015 — to obtain coverage.

“Expansion is good for the state’s economy overall because it frees up tax payer money that would otherwise go to pay for uncompensated care,” said Mahan, referring to un-reimbursed hospital expenses.

Hospitals in the 31 states and District of Columbia that have expanded Medicaid, including the two of the biggest networks in southwest Ohio — Dayton-based Premier Health and Kettering Health Network — have all reported significantly lower uncompensated care costs.

In addition, more patients are getting care for chronic illnesses and fewer residents are skipping medications or having problems paying medical bills.

Nationwide, an estimated 6 million more Americans would become eligible to receive expanded Medicaid coverage if all remaining states opt in to the program. But states like Georgia and Mississippi continue to reject federal funding for expansion, which can be seen in the number of uninsured workers in those states.

Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Kansas, Texas, South Carolina, and Utah — eight non-expansion states — saw the smallest declines in the rate of uninsured workers — down 13 percent or less, or roughly half the national average, according to Families USA.

By contrast, the eight expansion states that saw the largest reductions in uninsured workers — Hawaii, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Iowa, North Dakota and West Virginia — saw their rates fall by 30 percent or more.

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