Guest Commentary | What Davis doesn't get about Medicaid

Guest Commentary | What Davis doesn't get about Medicaid

By CLAUDIA LENNHOFF and JULIE A. PRYDE

On March 27, The News-Gazette's Local section featured a long article on Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, after he held a press conference at a local CVS.

As the directors of two key health care organizations in Champaign County, we were appalled at the congressman's comments regarding health care. His comments made clear that Rep. Davis simply does not understand Medicaid, the health insurance market and employment in the 13th Congressional District.

Both of our organizations — the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and Champaign County Health Care Consumers — work with community members every single day to help them get the health care they need and to improve our community's health.

We have reached out repeatedly to Rep. Davis over the past year, offering to meet with him and to provide education and information, and to serve as a resource for him on health policy matters that affect his constituents. Rep. Davis has never responded to our offers.

In the article, Rep. Davis stated that, "We also have to do something about the fact that 44 percent of those who have signed up under Medicaid in our state ... are able-bodied adults age 19-34." Rep. Davis goes on to say that we should make sure that these individuals get better job training for "good" jobs that he believes exist in the 13th Congressional District.

He says, "Let them get off of Medicaid, off of benefits, into an employed-based health care system that is going to be more affordable, provide better coverage and also get them into good-paying jobs that we know are right here."

We, of course, agree that we want people who are able to work to have good jobs that pay well. And if Congress would like to make a real investment into workforce development and training, we would support that. These jobs need to come with benefits as well, such as paid sick leave, which is important to the public's health. Too often individuals are forced to work while ill in order to get paid. Sick people working in the food service industry, health care and with vulnerable populations, such as in day cares and long-term care facilities, lead to preventable, communicable disease outbreaks.

It is a mistake to assume, as Rep. Davis does, that "good" jobs come with "good" health insurance. Rep. Davis clearly does not know that employer-sponsored health insurance is declining in the United States.

The Commonwealth Fund, among other organizations that look at trends in employer-based health insurance, has documented that fewer employers are offering health insurance, and the types of employer-based health plans they are offering are becoming increasingly unaffordable because of cost-shifting onto the employee, especially in the form of high deductibles.

In fact, it is precisely because of the decline in employer-based health insurance that the number of uninsured Americans was rising every year, reaching about 50 million uninsured at the time that the Affordable Care Act was passed. This is exactly why the ACA was passed — so that people could have health insurance coverage that did not depend upon their source of employment.

Another problem with Rep. Davis' comments is that he seems to imply that "able-bodied" people who have Medicaid coverage are not working. In fact, we know from publicly available data, and from our own clients, that the vast majority of individuals who have Medicaid coverage, and who are able to work, are working.

Some individuals with Medicaid are working two and three jobs because their jobs do not offer full-time employment or health insurance. Some individuals with Medicaid are self-employed and simply do not earn enough to afford a private health insurance plan.

In our own community, there are many "good" jobs that offer benefits, but there are also a very large number of jobs that offer low-wage employment. Think about all the restaurants, bars, hotels, convenience stores, gas stations, coffee shops, hair salons, day care centers, etc., and you can see that our local economy offers lots of low-wage jobs that will not afford the benefits that Rep. Davis imagines are available.

We at CUPHD and CCHCC have seen the life-saving difference that Medicaid coverage has made for our constituents. We are happy to provide more facts and information to anyone who requests it, including Davis.

But, regrettably, we are in the unfortunate position of having to tell the public that Rep. Davis does not understand health policy or how it works in his district.

Claudia Lennhoff is the executive director of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers. Julie A. Pryde is the administrator of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

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