While Medicaid expansion would reduce the uninsured rate for residents across the entire state, the most dramatic improvements would likely be felt in small towns and rural areas of Florida.
According to a report released today by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and the University of North Carolina’s NC Rural Health Research Project, states that expanded Medicaid saw more than three times the rate of decline in uninsured rates for low-income adults living in rural areas and small towns than non-expansion states between 2008/2009 and 2015/2016.
While Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country, the hit on rural areas and small towns is even greater. The uninsured rate for low-income Floridians in these areas is 13 percentage points higher than metro areas (37 percent vs. 24 percent). And in some Florida counties, like Columbia and Jackson, the rates are even higher, in the 40 to 42 percent range.
Multiple factors account for these differences. Generally, rural residents have lower incomes, so they can’t afford private insurance. It’s also more difficult to find work in rural areas, and thus residents can’t access employer-based insurance. Likewise, higher rates of disability prevent many residents from working.
These rural residents include parents of minor children. They represent about 25 percent of the low-income adults who would benefit from expansion. That’s because Florida has incredibly stringent income eligibility limits– just 34 percent of the poverty level or $7,000 per year for a family of three. So, thousands of Florida parents remain uninsured.
When parents are covered, children benefit- they are more likely to be insured and go to the doctor for preventive care. Moreover, the entire family has financial protection against large medical debt and bankruptcy.
Besides the benefits of residents gaining coverage with Medicaid expansion, entire rural communities would profit. Rural hospitals would be substantially more financially secure, preventing closures and the loss of a major local employer.
Let’s not forget that higher rates of uninsured translates into more human suffering, costly serious illnesses and premature deaths. By not expanding Medicaid, Florida residents of rural areas and small towns are carrying a larger share of this burden.