When our country experienced the last recession, an economic shockwave was sent from coast to coast. In the years since, many cities here in Ohio have rebounded. But a lot of our small towns and rural communities are still recovering. Unfortunately, those rural towns may soon be dealt another devastating blow if Congress cuts federal funding for our state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid is a critical lifeline for 20 percent of Ohio residents, more than 2.3 million, living in our small towns and rural areas, and the deep cuts to Medicaid being considered right now by Congress would have a harmful and disproportionate impact on our state’s children and families in need.
According to a new independent report by researchers at Georgetown University and the University of North Carolina, a larger share of children and families living in small towns and rural areas rely on Medicaid for their health coverage. This is especially true for children. About 40 percent of children living in non-metro areas of our state are covered by Medicaid and Healthy Start compared to 36 percent in metro areas. Nationally, the researchers found a direct connection between increases in Medicaid and Healthy Start coverage and reductions in the rate of uninsured children in small towns and rural areas.
Ohio can’t afford to turn our backs now on the progress we’ve made in getting our children the health coverage they need. Studies show that when children have health coverage they can get important doctor-recommended care and screenings to help them stay healthy and are more likely to enter school ready to learn.
The study also found that Medicaid covers a higher percentage of adults living in small towns and rural areas (19 percent) than in our state's metro areas (17 percent). Many adults covered by Medicaid are parents or caregivers and when they have health care coverage, they are better able to provide children with the care they need to grow and thrive. Medicaid also helps improves financial security by protecting the entire family against medical debt and bankruptcy.
Even Ohio residents who aren’t directly covered by Medicaid should be concerned about what cuts to Medicaid would mean for hospitals, clinics and physicians serving our state’s small towns and rural communities. Rural hospitals would be dealt a bigger blow from Medicaid cuts given that the program is such an important source of health coverage for its patients. When fewer people are covered, ER visits and uncompensated care drive up costs for all of us and put rural hospitals at risk of closing their doors. And if a community hospital can’t survive, a community can’t grow.
Medicaid is a lifeline that runs through the rural parts of our state. It ensures that the most vulnerable among us–children, seniors and people with disabilities—can get the care they need. It keeps our rural hospitals running and able to serve patients who otherwise would be forced to drive countless miles to get care. Medicaid cuts are bad for Ohio. They don’t reign in personal health care costs. They don’t give our state flexibility to innovate and find better ways to deliver care. Instead, they take away coverage from those who need it most.