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Protesters fill the Miami office of Florida
state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. on Sept. 20 to protest his stance against
expansion of health coverage in the state.
President Obama Tuesday appointed one of his top management gurus,
Jeffrey Zeints, to head the team working to fix what ails
Healthcare.gov, the troubled website that's supposed to allow residents
of 36 states to enroll in coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
even if the team gets the website working as it should, millions of
Americans may still log on to discover that they aren't eligible for any
health coverage at all. And that won't be due to any technical glitch.
It's because their state has decided not to expand the medicaid program.
This is not the way the health law was designed and enacted, says Bruce Siegel.
"Originally the idea was that millions and millions of Americans would get health insurance," says Siegel, president and CEO of ,
a group that represents safety net institutions around the country.
"They'd get coverage through Medicaid or through private insurance on
Currently in most states you have to be a
child, be pregnant or disabled to get Medicaid. The health law was
supposed to change all that — expanding the program to include nearly
everyone with incomes up to about , or about $15,000 a year for an individual.
in the summer of 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld the health law as
constitutional, it did something unexpected, Siegel says. "They said or not expanding it. And that led to a very, very different landscape than what we expected."
Even to opt in, still only half the states have said they will
expand their Medicaid programs, even though the federal government is of the additional people for the first three years, and 90 percent going forward.
As a result, according to the , between 6 and 7 million low-income uninsured adults live in states that are so far not expanding their programs.
And some of those states have among the largest populations of low income uninsured people.
3 million of them live in just four states," says Genevieve Kenney,
senior fellow and co-director of the Urban Institute's Health Policy
Center. Those states are Florida, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.
problem, says Kenney, is that for many of those people the law offers
them nothing. Because they were supposed to get Medicaid, they're at the exchanges unless their incomes are above the poverty line. That's about $11,000 a year for an individual.
think it's going to be confusing for individuals who are applying for
coverage," says Kenney. "It certainly makes the message about the new
affordable coverage that's available a lot more complicated to target."
the people who could get left behind is Ellen Wall. She's a nanny and
sometime music teacher from Atlanta. She says her income fluctuates, but
most years it's right around the poverty line. She says as long as she
can pay her bills, she doesn't mind earning that amount.
love doing what I do because I'm very good at what I do, that's why I've
chosen this profession," she says. "But there are those years when it's
quite lean and then I'm just barely making it. And what am I gonna do
if something comes up and I'm really sick and I need some help?"
doesn't have and hasn't had health insurance. She says that was a real
problem a few years back when she was in the hospital after an asthma
"It was kind of a very embarrassing situation to be in,
not to have the health insurance that could have covered that few days
that I was in the hospital," she said.
If Wall lived in a state
expanding Medicaid she would clearly qualify. But so far, Georgia
isn't. And her income may or may not be high enough to let her qualify
for help buying private coverage on the state's exchange. So she'll
likely remain working, poor and uninsured.
Most advocates say
people like Wall should turn to community clinics and public hospitals
if they can't get insurance. But there's a problem there, too, says
public hospital advocate Siegel. The health law cut funding for public
hospitals because it assumed so many more people would have insurance.
But in those states that aren't expanding Medicaid, the need for free
care is likely to go up instead of down.
"Many of these
hospitals will be overwhelmed," Siegel says. "Some of them are already
overwhelmed; many of them are already losing money, providing a high
level of service to people in need. And this will simply not be a
Public and other hospitals are in the
states that so far have opted not to expand their Medicaid programs.
Some states are still considering opting in. But in others, patients
left behind may have to scramble even harder to find care if they get