COVID-19 is ravaging communities across the country. For vulnerable people who already lacked access to health care and economic stability, the virus has inflicted even greater devastation, highlighting the systemic failures that are threatening the lives and wellbeing of far too many Americans.
Nowhere is that failure more clear than in the fourteen states that have refused to expand Medicaid, denying health insurance to millions of low-income Americans and causing rural hospital closures. For a decade, Republican-controlled legislatures in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, and more have made it their mission to undermine the Affordable Care Act and block access to coverage.
In Georgia, 14% of the population — 1.4 million people — do not have health insurance, the third-highest uninsured rate in the nation. Now, several hospitals have closed and multiple counties have no doctor at all, much of which could have been avoided had Republicans put public health over partisan point-scoring.
In Kansas, the majority of voters and even some Republican lawmakers support Medicaid expansion, but GOP Senate leadership has successfully blocked it from coming up for a vote, denying health care to 130,000 Kansans. Because of this inaction, nearly a third of the state’s rural hospitals are at risk of closing, leaving vulnerable communities isolated and without access to care.
In Texas, 5 million people do not have health insurance, fueling the state’s unprecedentedly high maternal mortality rate. If the state enacted Medicaid expansion tomorrow, 1.4 million people would be covered, billions of dollars would be added to the state coffers in the next ten years, and every Texan’s health insurance cost would go down. But the GOP won’t even give the matter a hearing.
The consequences have been disastrous. Studies show that tens of thousands of people have died because these fourteen states refused to expand Medicaid. Many people in the coverage gap have been unable to access preventative services, and their untreated underlying medical conditions now make them far more likely to die from the coronavirus.
Refusing to expand Medicaid is also fiscally irresponsible. These red states have thrown away billions of dollars in federal matching funds, bankrupting hospitals, and sacrificing thousands of good-paying health care jobs, particularly in poor and rural communities.
2019 was the worst year on record for rural hospital closures, which means more people in this country are living further away from the nearest health care center — and the hospitals still left standing are even more overwhelmed as they deal with the wave of critical patients suffering from COVID-19.
And as we face down the worst public health pandemic in a century, Republicans have doubled down on this unimaginable cruelty and are still refusing to expand Medicaid. The US just hit the highest unemployment rate in the history of the nation, with the economy in freefall and states facing looming budget shortfalls. Yet Republicans are still turning down federal dollars that could fund health care coverage, keep hospitals open, and provide good-paying medical jobs.
Getting anti-health Republicans out of office is our only shot at gaining commonsense solutions. If you think health care is a human right and are concerned with how our society comes back from the challenges of this pandemic, then you need to vote for state Democrats in November and make sure everyone you know does the same.