Op-Ed

Medicaid expansion makes good sense

TNS

In November, Montana became the 30th state to extend healthcare coverage to low-income, working uninsured people. Last week, Michigan and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) entered into an agreement to continue its program that insures more than 600,000 people.

Both states are led by Republicans. Medicaid expansion is not a partisan issue. Governors and state legislatures on both sides of the aisle have concluded that there is no policy-related or economic reason to say no.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law, the American healthcare landscape changed dramatically. It has affected everyone — from individuals to families to businesses.

More than 1 million Floridians signed up for coverage through the ACA’s insurance exchange, and communities such as Hialeah led the nation in enrollment. But many in Florida have fallen into a “coverage gap” — they earn too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidies in the Health Insurance Marketplace.

According to recent reports, Florida has the third-highest rate of uninsured people in the nation. When uninsured individuals get sick and aren’t able to access primary care, they often wait until the very last minute, when they are at their sickest and end up in the emergency room unable to pay for care.

In 2013, the cost of uncompensated care totaled nearly $3 billion in Florida. Those costs are borne by insured families and businesses as a “hidden tax” in the form of rising health-insurance premiums. This growing financial burden needs our attention.

Earlier this year, the debate on coverage between the Florida Senate and House of Representatives brought the 2015 legislative session to an impasse. Lawmakers have yet to agree on a solution, but Florida’s healthcare challenges aren’t going away anytime soon.

Right now, businesses are paying for uncompensated-care costs through increased health-insurance premiums for their employees. This, too, demands our attention. In order to make healthcare more cost-effective, we must address the critical problem of uncompensated care.

When people have healthcare coverage, they stay healthier longer. With regular access to primary care, patients have a better chance of identifying and treating an undetected illness. From a business perspective, healthy employees equal a healthy business.

There are also major economic benefits for Florida if it chooses to extend healthcare coverage. Florida would save billions in general revenue, more than 121,000 jobs would be created and millions of dollars a year would be pumped into local economies.

Our tax dollars have already paid for the extension of healthcare coverage in this state. The funding has been made available through taxes on health insurers and durable medical equipment, as well as reductions in Medicaid and Medicare payments to Florida’s hospitals. Turning down the federal funding means our state is not receiving healthcare coverage that our tax dollars are already paying for.

Research has shown that extending coverage will save money and alleviate the pressure of rising costs on business owners and, most important, provide millions of people with the healthcare they need to be well. Other states have chosen to do the right thing, and it’s time for Florida to do the same.

Julio Fuentes is the president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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