August 16, 2012 – Little Rock – Citing the tremendous health care needs of Arkansas poorest citizens, the statewide association for Arkansas physicians on Wednesday voted to support Medicaid expansion.
On Wednesday, the Board of Trustees of the Arkansas Medical Society adopted a motion to support Medicaid expansion in Arkansas. In arriving at this decision the AMS looked beyond their opposition to specific parts of the Affordable Care Act and instead focused on three questions:
- Is Medicaid Expansion good for Arkansas patients
- Does it help physicians meet their obligation to care for Arkansas’ poorest citizens?
- Can the state of Arkansas afford it?
(1) Medicaid expansion in Arkansas is expected to extend health care coverage to roughly 250,000 of Arkansas’ poorest citizens. Contrary to what some may think, this population is characterized by mostly hard working, employed individuals, whose income level makes the purchase of private health insurance an impossible and unrealistic goal. Lack of health insurance combined with a lack of resources to directly pay for health care causes these individuals to avoid preventive care. Instead, they postpone seeking medical care until their health deteriorates and ultimately becomes more expensive. Recent studies have also shown that lack of insurance coverage, particularly for people at this income level, leads to a shorter life expectancy.
(2) Physicians routinely care for patients who would be covered by the Medicaid expansion. They do it with little or no expectation of payment through their offices, emergency rooms, and a statewide safety-net of free-clinics and donated medical care programs such as the Arkansas Health Care Access Foundation. However, this system is struggling to meet the ongoing need to provide donated medical care. In addition, many individuals wait too long to seek care, making their condition difficult to treat. Medicaid expansion can support the ability of physicians to treat these patients, improve their health through preventive and prompt care, and help avoid more costly care. Additionally, expansion will help Arkansas’ rural hospitals face the mounting financial challenges that threaten to close their doors. These are all benefits that accrue not only to the individual but to their family, employers, their community and the rest of society.
(3) As one of the poorest states in America, Arkansas cannot afford to ignore the economic and health benefits that will come from participating in the Medicaid expansion. One physician noted that if Arkansas elects not to participate, our tax dollars will still be spent in those states that do choose to participate. During the first three years of the expansion, 100% of the cost will be paid using federal funds, after which the state’s share gradually rises to 10%. Initial economic analysis indicates that the state will pay less for uncompensated care, that it will generate increased tax revenues from this new stream of revenue, and that the new revenue will travel through the state’s economy, turning over several times. This will enable Arkansas to offset the 10% state contribution that begins in 2020. The state has also received reassurance that states that elect to move forward with expansion may later drop out should conditions change.
“I’m proud of our doctors,” said Dr. Gene Shelby, AMS president and newly elected chairman of the board. “They took this matter very seriously, debated it at length, and in the end did what was best for the patients of Arkansas who depend on them.”