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Medicaid "Huge" for Rural West Virginia Families

The percentage of West Virginia children and adults covered by Medicaid in rural areas and small towns grew dramatically between 2009 and 2015. (WoodleyWonderworks/Flickr)
The percentage of West Virginia children and adults covered by Medicaid in rural areas and small towns grew dramatically between 2009 and 2015. (WoodleyWonderworks/Flickr)
June 8, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A new report underscores the importance of Medicaid for rural West Virginia families.

According to the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, 51 percent of children living in the state's rural communities rely on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for their health coverage.

Kelli Caseman, director of child health with the West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, says that means these children and families have a lot at risk as Congress and the White House consider cuts to the program.

"That is huge,” she states. “While Medicaid is usually known as 'welfare' for adults, we're talking about kids who are living in abject poverty, kids with disabilities."

Caseman stresses that recent progress in covering the state's children means 97 percent now have access to health care – one of the highest rates in the country.

But Caseman says the health care legislation passed by the U.S. House would cut the Medicaid budget by a quarter over 10 years, and President Donald Trump's proposed budget would trim more than that.

Its proponents say their plan would give states more flexibility in how they cover lower income residents.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, says the center’s research also uncovered the overall benefits of Medicaid expansion for rural areas.

She says expansion states managed to reduce their uninsured rates for rural adults almost twice as much as those that did not choose to expand the program.

"For adults, the decline in uninsured rate was definitely higher,” she points outs. “An 11 percent point decline in rural areas and small towns, as compared to 6 percent in states that didn't accept expansion. "

Besides providing access to necessary medical care, Caseman says Medicaid also improves communities' economic security and protects families from medical debt and bankruptcy.

And she notes it is a crucial support for rural health centers and hospitals. She says the proposed cuts could be deeply damaging.

"I don't know how you could cut Medicaid and not cut kids,” she states. “When we discuss cutting Medicaid, we talk about cutting fraud, but these kids aren't committing fraud. These kids are just accessing health care."

The Senate is now considering the healthcare legislation.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV