Roper: What’s at stake for businesses with congressional Medicaid decisions?

Author: Steve Roper - June 26, 2017 - Updated: June 26, 2017

Steve Roper
Steve Roper

The health care debate has so far focused primarily on patient impacts. As well it should, a healthy Colorado is in everyone’s best interests. But there are additional factors Congress should keep in mind as it considers legislation that could reshape Medicaid as we know it — the economic effects.

Health care is one-sixth of the economy. Increasing access to medical services through Medicaid means more people working for our hospitals, clinics, labs, medical device developers, bioscience companies and other health care employers. It means more economic activity, especially important in rural areas where health care facilities are often a prime source of well-paid job opportunities.

One preliminary analysis pegged the advantage at an additional 31,074 jobs, $3.8 billion in economic activity and a $643 increase in annual household earnings within just two years of Colorado’s Medicaid upgrade. More growth is projected.

On the other hand, additional research shows Colorado losing health care jobs by 2020 if Medicaid is undermined. And some experts even point to the threat of recession.

There are some who seem to think that today’s Medicaid beneficiaries will get by if the health care program is rolled back, especially if that happens slowly. As someone with experience in the insurance industry however, I can guarantee one thing — without specific adjustments targeted to help low-income people, the private health insurance market will not simply pick up where Medicaid leaves off.

Instead, more than 400,000 Medicaid beneficiaries will find themselves back where they were — without any realistic access to health insurance and limited, if any, ability to pay out of pocket for care. In the case of serious illness, lives will be lost. This would be especially difficult for rural residents. The state of Colorado overall has exceeded pre-recession employment levels, but only four of 42 rural counties and three mixed ones have done so. This is a key reason why 45 percent of children and 16 percent of adults in rural areas rely on Medicaid. It’s just another disparity between city and country.

For the remaining 1 million Colorado Medicaid enrollees, coverage may be reduced as things like substance abuse treatment, mental health services, disease management programs and other benefits come under increasing budgetary pressure. This is not the future Colorado envisions, and it’s not the way to foster a productive workforce. As more small businesses struggle to provide health insurance, Medicaid is becoming an increasingly important part of the solution for keeping employees healthy and on the job.

We must also look at the savings Medicaid is promoting. By reducing the uninsured rate and increasing use of preventive care, Medicaid is lowering the pressure on insured patients to subsidize care for those who cannot pay their hospital bills. That’s making employer-based health plans more affordable.

As we delve deeper into health care, companies are taking the big picture view of Medicaid. Chamber members understand that if we want people to launch businesses, move to better jobs, work hard and contribute their full potential to our economy, we must have a health care system that supports them. At the most fundamental level that includes the safety net of Medicaid to catch people who fall on hard times and offer a hand up to those who have suffered persistent poverty so they can improve their lives.
When asked about their goals for health care reform, these should be the aims Colorado’s elected leaders highlight. They should then follow through with effective legislation designed to achieve these objectives and take a pass on any bill that sends America in the wrong direction.

Steve Roper

Steve Roper is the president of Roper Insurance. He served as chairman of the South Metro Denver chamber from 2016-2017.