Low-income Americans in the South, where states impose some of the nation’s most restrictive Medicaid eligibility requirements, are being forced to put off the medical care they need because they can’t afford it. According to a new study from the New England Journal of Medicine, the American adults who don’t qualify for Medicaid assistance in their states are simply forgoing care — an issue that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which seeks to extend public health insurance to the low-income people who can’t currently qualify for it, can help address.
Obamacare’s expansion seeks to standardize Medicaid eligibility levels throughout the country, since there’s currently a huge range of different Medicaid eligibility rates across different states. Some states define Medicaid eligibility so narrowly that families of three making just $5,000 per year aren’t considered poor enough to access public health insurance. Researchers used county-level data to confirm — predictably — that the low-income people in those states are less likely to get medical care. The problem was the worst in Florida and Texas, which have the greatest prevalence of residents delaying their health care services:
As the map shows, the county-level prevalence of delayed care has huge ranges across the country. Just 6.5 percent of the people in Norfolk, MA, are putting off their medical treatment, compared to a staggering 40.6 percent of the people who live in Hidalgo, TX.
Those numbers are directly related to whether states are defining their Medicaid pools by Obamacare’s expanded definition, and allowing people with annual incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line to access coverage. In states that have set their Medicaid eligibility levels at or above 133 percent of the federal poverty line, fewer people are delaying care. If every state accepted the health law’s expansion of the program, each Medicaid program would be set at that level, and the map above wouldn’t have nearly as much variation.