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Research Confirms Medicaid Expansion Huge Boost for Rural WV

Before the state expanded Medicaid, rural West Virginians were much less likely to have health insurance than their urban peers. (Pixabay)
Before the state expanded Medicaid, rural West Virginians were much less likely to have health insurance than their urban peers. (Pixabay)
September 26, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A new report says expanding Medicaid is really paying off for rural West Virginians.

Rural areas typically have real disadvantages – higher unemployment and poverty, fewer doctors and in some cases, financially strapped hospitals.

But Kelli Caseman, director of Child Health with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, says the report from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families shows good news.

It found expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has cut the rate of low-income, rural West Virginia adults without health coverage by 60 percent.

"We've virtually eliminated the gap in rural health insurance rates with the metro, because normally folks living in metro areas are more apt to be insured,” Caseman points out. “So, this is something that we're doing well in West Virginia. This is something that isn't broken, so let's keep it as it is."

Caseman says this has also helped cut the rate of West Virginia children without access to health care to 1.8 percent – among the lowest in the country.

By portion of the population living outside cities, West Virginia is one of the most rural states in the nation.

The state expanded Medicaid to cover folks up to one-and-one-third times the federal poverty line – an income of about $28,000 a year for a family of three.

It also reached out to households in that category to connect them to primary care providers.

Study co-author Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, says that's a big deal.

"Having health insurance, having this Medicaid coverage, is really important in these rural areas, which are already struggling with higher rates of unemployment and poverty,” she stats. “If you layer on top of that a higher uninsured rate, it really puts these folks in rural areas and small towns at a disadvantage."

Nationally, the study found that small towns and rural areas in expansion states saw three times the decline in low-income adults without coverage than in states that did not expand Medicaid. And some states that didn't opt to expand saw their uninsured rate increase.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV