Over the past eight years, the topic concerning Medicaid has been one of the most hotly-discussed topics in the political realm — and for good reason.
Now, that debate is heating up once more — again, for good reason.
With the vast changes that could occur on Bill H.R. 1628 — the American Health Care Act of 2017 — behind a push from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio may be losing Medicaid eligibility, which could put veterans, disabled individuals, and people with behavioral health needs in a world of hurt in the coming weeks and months if it passes.
However, Compass Community Center CEO Summer Kirby and Julie DiRossi King, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers, are two of the many individuals that are determined to not only let people in their home county know about the effects that the newest health care act will have on Medicaid in the future, but how to prevent it from happening.
“I believe that we’ve made a lot of progress over the last few years, especially since Ohio has extended Medicaid,” DiRossi-King said. “That’s all at stake now. So from a patient’s perspective, that has an impact to manage their ability to manage chronic conditions or their addictions effectively, and to have better health outcomes, as well as an impact on the total cost of the system. Then, when our patients are connected to coverage from a community health center perspective, that gives us more revenue to expand our own footprint and increase access to appropriate and comprehensive care.”
“What’s being proposed is very complex and very fast-paced,” Kirby said. “It’s very difficult to understand the impacts of (the changes in Medicaid).”
And those changes, certainly, are leading to some quaky feet with an economy that is recovering, but has also seemed to cater to the richest one percent of America in doing so.
The last time changes occurred to the Ohio Medicaid system was in October of 2013, when the federal government approved Ohio’s request to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income, uninsured Ohioans, according to the Ohio Governor’s Office of Health Transformation.
In that year, adults were covered who were living up to 138 percent of poverty, with children and pregnant women being covered up to 200 percent. That cut Ohio’s uninsured rate by 50 percent, and qualified 650,000 previously uninsured residents for Medicaid benefits.
The new health care act — which is expected to cut Medicaid funding by hundreds of billions of dollars — would put virtually all of those citizens, and additional individuals, completely in the hands of the state budget. There, medical services, or Medicaid funding, could get trimmed down or cut completely, which severely affects the ability of primary care, mental health, and alcohol or drug facilities.
“It’s not just about curtailing future enrollees, it’s about current enrollees, too,” Kirby said. “It also is a reflection of the discussions on grants and how that could be a transition, so what that means is that there are caps on them. So if you are, for example, the 101st person to go seek treatment in a primary care, mental health, or alcohol and drug facility, you are turned away, because there’s a cap. It’s crucial that everyone understands that and comes together to understand the impact of that, because Medicaid expansion has an impact, not only on saving lives and improving health, but on the overall economic development of communities, as well.”
This, in turn, could greatly affect Medicaid coverage for veterans, especially. According to the Families USA website, 1.75 million veterans depend on Medicaid, which would force those who served the United States to find other options.
“A lot of times, when you don’t have access to coverage, you either don’t seek care at all, and then your conditions get worse and worse until the pain becomes unbearable,” DiRossi-King said. “At that time, you’ll finally go to the ER, and that’s just not good for outcomes, cost, or the quality of your own life. Certainly, this is life and death for many Ohioans.”
Which is why by DiRossi-King and Kirby felt compelled to inform a county that they hold close to their hearts about the changes that lie ahead.
“I hope that folks feel more educated or can ask questions in this form to educate themselves and understand what’s at stake,” DiRossi-King said. “If they agree with us, then they will take action and raise their voice. Elected officials want to hear from constituents what they have before them, both from an economic perspective and from a qualify of life standpoint.”
“Our role today is to educate and advocate,” Kirby said. “We want individuals to understand what it means because it’s so complex. Through educating everyone, coming together as a community, and understanding that detrimental impact, we are letting our legislators know how we feel about this pending legislation.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7