Jessica Seaman, The Denver Post
The uninsured rate for low-income adults has dropped 29 percentage points since Colorado expanded Medicaid — the largest decrease experienced by a state, according to a new study.
Colorado is one of multiple states to see a decrease in the number of uninsured adults in rural areas since expanding Medicaid.
The state saw the uninsured rate for adults in rural areas and small towns slide from 42 percent in 2008-09 to 13 percent in 2015-16, according to the report by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families and University of North Carolina’s NC Rural Health Project.
“We knew Medicaid expansion was having a big impact in rural parts of our state but this report — it really sort of outlines how dramatic that impact has been,” said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
Medicaid — the government health care program for low-income adults and children — started growing in Colorado in 2009 when lawmakers expanded the program to all individuals below the poverty line.
It grew again after most legislators approved expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Under what is also known as Obamacare, Medicaid was extended to almost all low-income individuals with incomes at or below 138 percent of the poverty line, roughly $28,676 for a family of three, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Colorado is not the only state to see larger decreases in the uninsured rates for low-income adults in rural areas and small towns. States, such as Nevada, Kentucky, Oregon and New Mexico, have also seen double-digit drops in uninsured rates.
Overall, states that expanded Medicaid saw uninsured rates for adults in rural communities fall from 35 percent to 16 percent between 2008-09 and 2015-16, according to the Sept. 25 report.
States that chose not to expand Medicaid have seen uninsured rates decline at a slower rate, if at all. Collectively, nonexpansion states saw uninsured rates in rural areas slip from 38 percent to 32 percent during the seven-year period, the study shows.
The report’s findings highlight the role Medicaid plays in rural communities, which have a higher number of uninsured patients and have been battling a shortage of health care providers, said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families and an author of the study.
She said Medicaid not only provides coverage to low-income residents, but it also supports providers and hospitals in rural communities that often care for patient populations that are often under-insured and uninsured.
“Many folks don’t realize Medicaid is such a critical pillar of the health care system in those communities,” Alker said.
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