New research illustrates the significant impact Medicaid expansion is having in Illinois, especially in rural areas.
According to the findings, among states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, uninsured rates for low-income adults living in rural areas and small towns fell more than three times more than in non-expansion states.
Stephanie Altman, director of health care justice, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago, said the state's decision to expand Medicaid to working families has been a wise investment.
"In Illinois, the uninsured rate for adults in small towns and rural areas dropped 29 percent to 12 percent between 2008 and 2016, which is the largest drop we've ever had," she said. "So it's really, really been important for Illinois."
The report, released by Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families and the University of North Carolina, said that disparities in coverage rates between metro and rural areas have largely been eliminated in Illinois.
Altman added that improved coverage rates help create a more stable health-care system, which is crucial for rural communities already struggling with higher rates of unemployment and poverty.
"A lot of the hospitals in those small towns and rural areas are the largest employer," she said, "and it's really kept people employed, healthy and economically viable."
The study's co-author, Georgetown Center executive director Joan Alker, said providing working adults access to the preventive care that comes with having health insurance is a smart investment of taxpayer dollars because people are less likely to use emergency rooms as their primary care provider. She said she's hopeful the research will help inform public policy debate in states that are still considering Medicaid expansion.
"I think this kind of data is really important in breaking down some of the stereotypes about Medicaid and helping to really educate the public and key stakeholders about the value of Medicaid for rural communities," she said.
According to the report, one-fourth of Americans without health coverage are also parents, which Alker noted can impact the health and well-being of their children.
The report is online at georgetown.edu.