J.W. Cowan: We need state Medicaid expansion not federal overhaul

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Later this month, another Alabama hospital will close. This marks the state’s thirteenth hospital closing in eight years. Unfortunately, this has become all too common in the state and it puts many lives at risk. Our state and nation’s health care system should be the number one priority, but we need to focus on appropriate solutions that will solve this problem, not create new ones.

As administrator for Choctaw General Hospital in Butler, Ala., a small rural town in the Black Belt, I see firsthand every day the rural health challenges our state faces with disparities and lack of access. 

I’m encouraged by the strides our health care system has made to improve on ACA and identify real solutions moving forward. One of these solutions is expanding Medicaid. Many of our patients rely on Medicaid to get the health care coverage they need. Recently, Rep. Terri Sewell and Sen. Doug Jones made Medicaid expansion their top priority by sponsoring legislation that would give states like Alabama incentives for expanding Medicaid. This is commonsense legislation that would have a tremendous impact on our rural hospitals and health care system.

However, some members of Congress have proposed a “Medicare for all” plan where the government runs everyone’s health care coverage. Elizabeth Warren was in Alabama last week visiting Selma and discussed her support of a Medicare for all plan. She’s part of a group of outspoken Democrats pushing for a massive overhaul of the country’s healthcare system. Providing greater access to care for Americans is important, but a one-size-fits-all approach to coverage will only exacerbate our current problems and create new ones.

The American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) recently released a report that examined the Medicare for all plan. It found that under the government run plan, hospitals would be faced with $774 billion in cuts. Alabama specifically would lose $10.9 billion under a Medicare public option proposal. This would be detrimental to many hospitals, especially in rural areas, who are already facing financial setbacks and, most importantly, could impact patient access and care. 

Medicaid has helped millions of Americans receive health care coverage. The Alabama Hospital Association estimates that about 326,000 Alabamians would gain health care coverage if Medicaid was expanded in the state. This is the health care reform we need instead of a complete overhaul of the system that would harm patients and providers.

It’s time we put patients first and focus on solutions that make sense.

J.W. Cowan is Administrator for Choctaw General Hospital in Butler, Alabama.