Medicaid expansion is right for Iowa

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By Tim Charles and Ted Townsend


We have the privilege of serving organizations whose missions and visions are put to work each day as we meet the health care needs of our community: to diagnose, heal, comfort and promote wellness.

At Mercy Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospital, we are committed to serving as a healing presence to the most vulnerable among us, which means the debate over whether Iowa should expand the Medicaid health insurance program comes down to a question of mission and morality. We believe caring for the least fortunate among us is simply the right thing to do.

We also believe that expanding Medicaid is the right decision to protect jobs and help enhance our state’s business climate.

We appreciate the complexity of the Medicaid program for both the federal government and our state legislators. We also understand the challenge of forecasting the financial impact of a “yes” or a “no” decision.

However, as organizations who take our healing mission very seriously, we believe that expanding access to health care to an additional population of very low-income Iowans fits squarely within our mission to serve all who need our medical care and reflects the priorities and values of the communities we serve.

A decision against extending Medicaid coverage to more Iowans also will have a severe financial impact on our state’s health care providers, potentially forcing some to eliminate jobs. Our hospitals already are absorbing significant cuts in reimbursement under the Affordable Care Act.

Our hospitals and other Iowa health care providers already serve those who would benefit from Medicaid expansion when they become so sick they need care in our emergency rooms — and we absorb those costs as unreimbursed charity care. This, too, reflects our mission, but the growth for charity care is unsustainable and undermines our ability to support the overall demand for other community-benefiting programs.

More important, the emergency room is no replacement for a personal physician. But it is practically impossible for someone to establish a relationship with a primary care provider — to create a “medical home,” if you will — when they are uninsured. This is why we must expand Medicaid coverage to as many low-income Iowans as possible.

Our hospitals have supported the governor’s goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. We have actively supported Cedar Rapids’ and Marion’s successful bids to become Blue Zones model communities. We work continuously to improve the quality of care for every patient while also creating efficiencies that ensure every health care dollar is well spent.

Providing high-value health care is an important part of our commitment that also reflects the expectations of the communities we serve. Accomplishing this goal — ensuring quality while also lowering health care costs through improved care management — also will fuel economic growth, a top priority for both our state and communities.

However, refusing to expand Medicaid and keeping thousands of poor Iowans uninsured undermines the physical health of our people and the economic vitality of our hospitals and our state. And we will have let down thousands of struggling Iowans who are counting on our compassion, which is the very heart of health care.

Tim Charles is president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. Comments: Ted Townsend is president and CEO of St. Luke’s Hospital, Cedar Rapids. Comments:


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