Republican Governors Starting to Realize People Like Medicaid

While enrollment in Obamacare's private plans has been dominated by previously insured individuals, Medicaid expansion enrollees have often gone uninsured for years.

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Medicaid is the one bright spot in Obamacare's kinda sad rollout — it hasn't been crippled by the PR and website problems that slowed down private insurance. We've heard a lot about people who lost their old insurance plans under Obamacare, but many who benefit from the Medicaid expansion didn't have insurance in the first place. In a New York Times profile of an Obamacare "winner," 54-year-old disabled nurse Sharon Mills from West Virginia, the Times found that, perhaps not surprisingly, people are intensely relieved and less depressed when they have insurance. As the Medicaid expansion continues to do well in the states that adopted it, anti-expansion governors are starting to come around.

Mills, who felt helpless and depressed after years of struggling to get her diabetes medications without insurance, said that getting Medicaid was enough to stop her suicidal thoughts. Overall, the Medicaid expansion has reduced the number of uninsured in West Virginia by one third. About 75,000 people signed up, even though President Obama is extremely unpopular in the state. ("This man is not the Antichrist. He just wants you to have health insurance," a man who helps enroll people said.) A Kaiser Family Foundation report estimates that the Medicaid expansion will eventually lower the state's uninsured rate by 67 percent. 

Across the country Republican leaders are learning that, as well. As much as some people don't like the president, they do like the Medicaid expansion. That's prompted conservative governors to expand the program, though in ways they can still stomach. In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said he was in support of the expansion (primarily because he didn't want the state to lose out of federal funds). Snyder's Healthy Michigan Plan, according to M Live, was approved by the federal government last month, requires co-pays and income-based premiums. In a statement he wrote, "with the approval of the Healthy Michigan Plan, we can move forward to bring coverage to residents, creating a healthier, more productive workforce while saving money for the state’s taxpayers and job providers," to emphasize that he's not buying in to some liberal welfare program.

In December, Iowa reached an agreement with the White House on a semi-privatized Medicaid expansion plan that will extend benefits to up to 100,000 uninsured individuals. Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett introduced a controversial Medicaid expansion plan with "monthly premiums for adults, work-search requirements, and caps on the number of medical visits and tests that can be performed," according to CBS Philly.  In states that aren't considering expanding the program, there have been protests: in Georgiain North Carolina, in Alabama and in Texas. And as governors continue to give their State of the State addresses, Medicaid expansion is predicted to play a big roll as leaders justify their choices.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.