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MADISON, Wis. - Medicaid plays a bigger role in providing health coverage to people living in small towns and rural areas than it does in metropolitan areas, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Children and Families. And with its many small communities, that means Medicaid is a major factor in the well-being of Wisconsinites, the report shows.
As Congress discusses making big cuts to the program, Joan Alker, the Georgetown center's executive director, says the impact could be severe. "Children and families living in small towns and rural areas risk losing access to health care and their protection from rising health care costs as Medicaid funding is cut, as Congressional leaders are currently thinking about," she states. Those who support cutting Medicaid say states can do a better job tailoring plans to serve their own residents. Alker points out that Medicaid is already working to help rural communities in all states, and that pulling funding would also pull support for rural health centers and hospitals, which are major small town employers.
Sashi Gregory, a health care policy analyst with the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, says the cuts being proposed would hit Wisconsin particularly hard, because of the many small towns in the state. Gregory stresses Medicaid helps everyone in those communities, not just the recipients whose families are covered. "It means that they can see a doctor when they're sick, so they don't wind up sicker and then having to go to the emergency room, which is more expensive," she explains. "And it just leads to less uncompensated care and more people, especially children, getting and staying healthy."
The report shows Wisconsin adults also benefit from Medicaid expansion. In 2009, 25 percent of the state's adults did not have health coverage, and the latest figures show it's now 15 percent. Alker points out that many rural areas are struggling because they haven't yet fully recovered from the recession, and Medicaid is of critical importance to their well-being. "There is such a clear link between the role of the Medicaid program and the growing importance of the Medicaid program, and declines in the rate of uninsured kids and adults in small towns and rural areas," she states. "It's very, very striking."
In Alker's opinion, by cutting Medicaid funding, the nation's leaders would be turning their backs on the progress the nation has made in helping children and families.