The health care law known as the Affordable Care Act makes important advances to provide millions of Americans with high-quality and affordable health care.
Right now, Pennsylvania has an important decision to make.
The Supreme Court decision upholding the health care law allows states to decide whether or not to expand coverage through the Medicaid program. If Pennsylvania implements this expansion, it will dramatically reduce the number of uninsured Pennsylvanians, garner an extraordinary amount of federal support and ensure a smarter use of Pennsylvania's healthcare dollars.
Under the new health care law, up to 241,000 women in Pennsylvania who are currently uninsured could have affordable health insurance starting next year. This is because the health care law includes money for each state to cover more people through Medicaid. When combined with other reforms in the Affordable Care Act , this coverage expansion would reduce uninsurance among women in Pennsylvania from 12.5 percent to 1.2 percent.
Hard-working families in Pennsylvania need the security of quality health coverage to get the care they need when they need it.
Of course, state budgets are strained, and most states are only beginning to feel relief from the recession. That's why this opportunity to expand coverage through Medicaid is so important. The federal government will pay 100 percent of these costs in the first years and at least 90 percent of the costs after that.
Governors and state legislators across the country -- across the political spectrum -- have done the math and come to the same conclusion: It's too good a deal to turn down.
By providing affordable health insurance, Medicaid plays an important role in improving low-income women's economic security. At the same time, Medicaid supports millions of jobs that women hold across the country. In Pennsylvania, Medicaid currently supports roughly 157,556 health sector jobs held by women.
Women covered through Medicaid will receive a comprehensive set of health benefits, such as mammograms, preventive health screenings and treatment for chronic conditions. In addition, women and their families will enjoy greater economic security -- people with Medicaid coverage are less likely to ignore other bills or borrow money to pay medical expenses than people without health coverage.
When women have health insurance, the entire family can better manage its health -- for example, children can get their asthma medications and moms can manage their high blood pressure.
Health coverage for women and families is an effective use of healthcare dollars.
On the other hand, Pennsylvanians are already paying to treat uninsured people in emergency rooms through the higher rates hospitals and clinics must charge people with health coverage to cover costs incurred by those without it. This cost-shifting creates a "hidden tax" that all of us pay, amounting to an additional $1,100 per family, on average, in healthcare premiums.
That's why expanding coverage through Medicaid, with unprecedented federal money, is simply a smarter use of our healthcare dollars.
Pennsylvania should seize this opportunity to provide comprehensive insurance coverage that helps people get appropriate treatment before they get too sick, and diverts people from high-cost emergency rooms towards more cost-effective care.
Pennsylvania must make wise investments to grow the economy while helping hardworking women and their families get health coverage. Expanding coverage through Medicaid is a sensible approach to provide health coverage for the uninsured, a good deal for Pennsylvania, and a smarter use of healthcare funds.
Leaving millions of federal dollars on the table -- and so many women in Pennsylvania without health coverage -- would be foolish.
-- Susan Frietsche is the senior staff attorney for the Women's Law Project based in Pennsylvania.