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Report: Medicaid Plays Vital Role in Rural Arkansas

A new study says Medicaid is playing a larger role in rural health care, particularly for children. (FatCamera/GettyImages)
A new study says Medicaid is playing a larger role in rural health care, particularly for children. (FatCamera/GettyImages)
June 8, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A new report shows Medicaid is important to ensure that rural families, in Arkansas and across the country, have access to the care they need to stay healthy.

The Georgetown University Center for Children and Families finds 61 percent of children in rural Arkansas are on Medicaid for their health care coverage, compared with 46 percent in metro areas.

The report also shows that Medicaid is critically important to people living in small town and rural America.

Bo Ryall, president of the Arkansas Hospital Association, says Medicaid provides low-income Arkansans with a wider range of options when they need health care.

"When they go to a physician, they have an insurance card just like anybody else,” Ryall states. “So, it opens access with the physician clinic, it provides them a way into the hospital, where they're getting preventive care, and they're not just waiting for when they're at their sickest and showing up at the emergency department."

The report also shows the expanding role of Medicaid. In 2015, the program covered 5 percent more children in rural communities across the country than in 2009.

However, President Donald Trump's proposed budget and the U.S. House health care plan could endanger that, slashing more than $1 trillion from Medicaid over the next decade.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, says the proposed cuts to Medicaid would have an outsized impact on these communities, many of which are still struggling economically from the recession.

"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 points out.

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

And she notes the program is a crucial support for whole communities as it provides funding for rural health centers and hospitals.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR