Lower Oconee Community Hospital faced a problem common to rural health-care providers: Too many unhealthy people who don’t have health insurance. Lots of Southern places are like the one served by the Lower Oconee hospital — pockets of high unemployment, diminished opportunities and stubborn rates of poverty.
In the county served by Lower Oconee Community Hospital, almost 25 percent of residents are uninsured, 10 percent are jobless and 4-in-10 children live in poverty.
One single policy won’t fix the challenges facing rural hospitals. However, states can take steps to better protect residents served by these facilities.
For example, states can expand their Medicaid programs to cover more working adults who earn too much to qualify at current levels but not enough to afford private insurance. This expansion is offered to states under Obamacare, and the terms could hardly be more friendly. The vast majority of the costs are covered by the federal government.
The benefits from this one policy flow across a state’s economy. More people are employed. Health-care providers aren’t stuck with the expenses of treating the uninsured. The finances of the working poor are more stable.
A UAB study predicted that if Alabama expanded its Medicaid program to cover 300,000 uninsured residents, the state would add $1 billion and 30,000 jobs to its economy.
Yet, Alabama’s Gov. Robert Bentley and most governors of Southern states have refused to expand Medicaid. For leaders in those states, Obamacare is toxic. Yes, even when it helps hard-working residents. Yes, even when it boosts the economy. Yes, even when it adds jobs. Yes, even when it protects vulnerable community hospitals.
By the way, Georgia, which has now seen four rural hospitals close in the past two years, and Gov. Nathan Deal refuse to expand Medicaid, an effort that would cover 500,000 Georgians.
In a November 2013 Bloomberg News article, one CEO of a network of rural Georgia hospitals warned that as many as 15 rural hospitals may shut down “within months.”
This is a tragedy, an outrage led by politicians who put their extreme ideology above problem-solving.
Federal government incentives for Medicaid expansion were created in a way that no rational governor could say no. More residents are helped and 90 percent or more of the costs are picked up by the feds.
Who could turn that down? Republican politicians suffering from a blinding hatred of anything associated with Barack Obama, that’s who.
Let’s pray the fever breaks soon.