The Ottumwa Courier

December 29, 2012

Correcting coverage for poor could bring millions

Clinic pushes for expanded Medicaid rather than IowaCare

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — A medical clinic supporting southeast Iowa wants more residents to have health insurance. With the federal government  offering funding to states, now would be a great time to put Iowa’s most endangered citizens on Medicaid.

“There are a lot of people at or near the poverty level,” said Rick Johnson, CEO of River Hills Community Health Center, “including some of our most vulnerable Iowans.”

That includes older adults and those with disabilities who may not qualify for other assistance. There are also workers whose salaries don’t  leave room for traditional health insurance.

We all end up splitting the bill for those who pile up medical bills they can’t pay, Johnson said. But putting them on a state-funded plan is a poor value for taxpayers and not all that helpful to southeast Iowa patients.

“In 2014, IowaCare becomes 100 percent state funded [whereas] Medicaid is funded partially by the state, and possibly by federal,” Johnson said. “IowaCare doesn’t pay for lab work or prescriptions or X-rays. It’s not able to meet all the needs of the people on it. And it’s tough to get care locally.”

People on the IowaCare program who reside in Des Moines or Iowa City are allowed to go to the hospital there. People from Ottumwa can’t use an Ottumwa hospital; they’re required to make their way to Iowa City each time they need to see a doctor. Johnson said those are already Wapello County’s poorest people. They may lack the ability to drive or pay for gas for a round trip to Iowa City.

“We’re taking the stance that the governor and the Legislature should approve the expansion of Medicaid in Iowa. If states agree, they are going to get a lot of funding federal. The community health centers are encouraging the Legislature and the governor to pick those people up and give them full Medicaid.”

He said despite the universal care push of the current president, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can make their own decisions on who they insure and how. Expanded Medicaid is one option that makes financial sense at the same time it makes sense for the health care of Iowans.

“Iowa has one of the most extensive Medicaid programs in the country. The Iowa Legislature has traditionally said we want to provide a full array of services for our most vulnerable population. [Although the] single largest expense in Iowa is nursing homes, Medicaid is very comprehensive.”

Politically, though, Medicaid has gone back and forth as a “bad word” for elected officials. So Johnson hopes by River Hills Community Health Center publicly supporting expanded Medicaid, southeast Iowa residents will contact their legislators to support the move to expanded Medicaid

 Historically, he said, getting more health care coverage for the needy has been a tough fight.