Twenty percent of low-income Utahns living in metro areas don’t have health insurance and in rural areas, 31 percent of adults are uninsured, according to a report released this week. The findings show that this disparity is the third largest in the nation and cites Medicaid expansion as the most effective way to close the gap.
Joan Alker is a research professor and the director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. She co-authored a recent report exploring the role Medicaid plays in providing healthcare to residents of rural areas.
“Overall rural areas tend to have more poverty,” Alker said. “They also just don’t have as many jobs that provide healthcare.”
According to the report, 42 percent of low-income adults in San Juan County are uninsured-- the highest rate in the state. In comparison, Salt Lake County has an uninsured rate of 22 percent.
“Most of these folks are working,” Alker said. “They are low-wage workers, but they may be working in the tourism industry, seasonal work. That simply doesn’t come with health insurance.”
In the upcoming midterm election, Utahns will be able to vote on full Medicaid expansion. Because of the gap between rural and metro uninsured rates, Alker said rural counties have a tremendous amount at stake.
“Sometimes states will take Band-Aid measures and try to fund some clinics or other kinds of services,” she said. “But that really doesn’t provide insurance. And if folks don’t have insurance, they don’t have the peace of mind the economic security that comes with that.”
Beyond providing people insurance, Alker said Medicaid expansion helps keep health services in rural communities.
“This is not just a question for folks who would benefit directly from Medicaid expansion. It really is important for rural communities at large,” Alker said.