Southern governors advocate for Medicaid expansion

It was an odd sight at the annual meeting of the Southern Governors Association--three of its members advocating for expansion of Medicaid eligibility as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Nevertheless, the governors of Arkansas, Kentucky and Maryland all appeared to advocate the need for all of the region's states to expand Medicaid, the Associated Press reported.

Two dozen states have yet to expand their Medicaid eligibility, despite indications that it has helped the bottom lines of safety-net and other hospitals. The geographic resistance is primarily in the South.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) made an economic argument for expansion."Having more of our people with healthcare coverage is the right thing to do," he said. "You're not going to have a productive workforce unless they're also a healthy workforce."

Partly as a result of Medicaid expansion, Kentucky saw a 9 percentage point drop in its uninsured residents.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) argued that expanded Medicaid has taken an enormous amount of pressure off of its providers.

"You're going to see the people of those states that currently have run into some of the ideological roadblocks, you're going to see increasingly their provider communities--their doctors, their hospitals, their wellness professionals and their citizens--becoming aware that there is a better way to keep people well and to reduce the cost," O'Malley said.

Arkansas saw an even steeper drop in uninsured, from 22.5 percent to 12.4 percent. Its Medicaid program is a hybrid, wherein the state takes federal funds to purchase private coverage. But the program requires annual renewals that three-quarters of the state's legislature must approve. Gov. Mike Beebee (D) said continuing the program is the morally correct action to take.

"Let's say that 26 percent don't want to do it and therefore you don't have the three-fourths," he said. "What's that 74 percent going to do? Are they just going to roll over and play dead, stick their feet up in the air and say 'OK, you killed me. Let's all go home?' No."

To learn more:
- read the Associated Press article