Expanding Medicaid in Colorado makes dollars — and sense

History offers countless examples of when “doing the right thing” also was the “fiscally responsible thing.”

The development of the Interstate Highway System comes to mind. Once described as “the largest public works program since the Pyramids,” it required a substantial financial investment from the American people. But completion of this ambitious project helped shape the United States into a world economic superpower and enabled trade and commerce to flow more freely from location to location.

Moving forward to 2013, an independent report commissioned by the Colorado Health Foundation shows that raising the eligibility level for Medicaid is not only the right thing for the health of Coloradans, it also happens to be smart budgetary and economic policy.

Titled “Medicaid Expansion: Examining the Impact on Colorado’s Economy,” the report was compiled by Charles S. Brown, a respected Colorado policy and economics analyst. Brown’s thorough analysis projects that by 2026, Medicaid expansions will add 22,388 new jobs (including 14,357 in the first 18 months of expansion), increase economic activity by $4.4 billion and reduce the number of uninsured Coloradans by 189,000.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court in effect ruled that Medicaid expansion is voluntary for the states. Still, many states like Arizona and Ohio recognize the strong return on investment and are wisely moving forward with expansion.Gov. John Hickenlooper backs Medicaid expansion in Colorado.

If approved, Medicaid expansion would enable thousands of uninsured Coloradans — in many cases, hard-working families — to obtain health insurance, provided their earnings fall within 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). This level equates to an annual income of $15,415 for a single individual and $31,809 for a family of four — greatly benefiting many Coloradans who otherwise could not afford to buy health insurance. According to the most recent Colorado Health Report Card, 9.3 percent of children, 10 percent of adolescents and 18.3 percent of working adults in the state lack health coverage.

Expanding Medicaid eligibility will not only increase the access to health care for more low-income Coloradans and improve their health, it also will improve their financial well-being, due to lower out-of-pocket medical expenditures and less medical debt. Additionally, providing coverage to uninsured Coloradans will relieve financial pressures on hospital emergency rooms – where many uninsured patients often turn for uncompensated care.

Though Medicaid expansion will require a larger investment from Colorado over time, the report makes clear that added revenuesfrom new jobs and other economic drivers should defray those costs. According to our Medicaid expansion economic impact  report, economic growth from expanding Medicaid will generate more state tax revenues – an estimated $128 million more by the end of 2026 – without increasing state tax rates.

Furthermore, Medicaid expansion presents abundant opportunities to contain health care costs. On the federal level, the Department of Health and Human Services is implementing initiatives to help states consider policies that will improve care and generate efficiencies to tackle rising costs. In Colorado, additional savings could be realized through continued efficiencies, such as the Accountable Care Collaborative, health information technology, payment simplification, medical homes and reduction in fraud and abuse – all already well under way in our state.

Like the Interstate Highway System, making quality health coverage available to more Coloradans through Medicaid expansions is a reliable route to a healthier, more productive and economically strong Colorado. And it will bring all of us closer to making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation.

Categories: Economy/Politics