Editorials

Editorial: Medicaid cuts would be a devastating blow for rural America

The Senate bill repealing and replacing Obamacare slashes spending for Medicaid, just like the House version of the legislation. That’s bad news for all Americans, but a particular problem for rural residents, who face a health care crisis.
The Senate bill repealing and replacing Obamacare slashes spending for Medicaid, just like the House version of the legislation. That’s bad news for all Americans, but a particular problem for rural residents, who face a health care crisis. AP

This week, Rep. Sam Graves reintroduced a bill called the “Save Rural Hospitals Act.”

The congressman from Missouri wants a series of regulatory and financial reforms to cut expenses and raise revenue for roughly 2,500 rural hospitals.

Without the bill, “rural hospitals in Missouri will continue to close,” Graves said in a statement. “This leaves thousands without access to health care, putting lives in jeopardy and affecting every family in middle America. That’s simply not acceptable.”

We agree. In fact, Graves’ bill might actually do some good things for rural health care.

So why did the congressman vote for the American Health Care Act, the House Republicans’ repeal of Obamacare?

The AHCA would cut $840 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years. It would decimate millions of Americans’ access to health care, particularly in rural areas.

The bill leaves “millions of the sickest, most under served populations in our nation without coverage,” the National Rural Health Association says, “further escalating the rural hospital closure crisis.”

It’s a clear case of say one thing, do another. And Graves isn’t alone.

Thursday, Senate Republicans released their own version of an Obamacare replacement bill. It too is crammed with provisions that would harm the very constituents senators have pledged to protect.

Senate Republicans say they want to cut premiums, for example, so the bill gives states the right to abandon “essential health benefits” in health policies.

Make no mistake: Those cheaper premiums will mean bare-bones insurance policies and higher out-of-pocket costs.

Tax credits to buy insurance would be reduced. That would almost certainly lead to fewer individuals buying coverage, exacerbating losses for private insurers.

And the Senate bill matches the AHCA in its cruelty to low-income Americans, who would face massive cuts in Medicaid.

Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion — which has provided health coverage to 11 million Americans — would be phased out. Regular Medicaid would be capped and coverage decisions returned to the states, threatening quality care for 70 million Americans.

And those cuts would fall heavily on rural areas, where one in five residents relies on Medicaid. Hundreds of thousands of rural Americans who depend on Medicaid for nursing home care are also at risk.

In a statement Thursday, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas endorsed the Senate bill while promising to protect rural health care. It can’t be done. A vote for the Senate bill is a vote to devastate rural health care.

Obamacare isn’t perfect. It needs important reforms, including a viable option for individuals who can’t find a policy on their local exchange. Coverage formulas and subsidies could also be tweaked.

The Republican alternatives come nowhere close to accomplishing those goals. They cut health care for the poor to pay for tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

Congress should reject them and start over.

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