Trimmel Gomes, Florida News Connection
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida isn’t one of the 33 states that expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, but if it had, more rural, low-income residents would have health insurance.
A new report from Georgetown University shows big coverage gaps in states without expanded Medicaid.
Anne Swerlick, a policy attorney and analyst with the Florida Policy Institute, says small towns in particular are missing out on the health and economic progress that access to care has brought in other states.
Instead, she says Florida is among a handful of states with high rates of uninsured low-income adults, in areas of greatest need.
“In rural areas, it’s as high as 37 percent, versus 24 percent in the metro areas,” she points out. “In some Florida counties, like Columbia and Jackson counties, the rates are even higher, in the 40 to 42 percent range.”
The report shows the uninsured rate for low-income adults has dropped in the last decade in nearly all states, but the sharpest declines have been in small towns and rural areas where Medicaid programs were expanded.
After wavering, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature rejected expansion over cost concerns.
Study co-author Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, says there is actually savings through improved coverage rates and a more stable health care system.
“Really, it’s a wiser use of taxpayer dollars to provide them with the primary preventive care that comes with having health insurance up front, so they don’t get sicker and wind up in the emergency room,” she points out.
Swerlick says across the state, many who are going without insurance are parents of young children.
“Florida has an extremely restrictive income limit for Medicaid eligibility for these parents,” he points out. “It’s just 34 percent of the poverty level, which translates to $7,000 per year for a family of three.”
Non-metro counties in Florida with the largest share of uninsured adults in 2015 and 2016 were Columbia, Jackson, Putnam, Okeechobee and Suwannee counties.