Guest Columnist

Small town doctor: COVID-19 pushes Medicaid to the brink in Iowa

Adequately funding Iowa’s Medicaid program helps to equip health care workers to do our jobs and save lives. The ongoing pandemic has pushed Medicaid to its limits as more and more Iowans rely on the program and health care workers are already experiencing more shortages of critical personal protective equipment (PPE).

As Congress debates how to provide additional relief to Americans during the pandemic, any final package must provide support to front-line workers and the people we care for in Iowa, by increasing funding for Medicaid in the next federal coronavirus relief package. Financial relief is essential to ensure we’re delivering quality care and saving lives.

More than 682,000 Iowans receive their health care through the Medicaid program, including 331,000 children. Medicaid is a lifeline for them and ensures that they have access to high-quality health care in the midst of the biggest public health crisis in modern memory.

Additionally, seniors living in nursing homes, who rely on Medicaid, should not have to worry about cuts to Medicaid that can result in reductions to safe staffing and quality care in nursing homes amid a pandemic. Forty-eight percent of seniors living in nursing homes rely on Medicaid, and nursing homes depend on Medicaid for 75 percent of their revenue. Nursing homes, assisted living and intermediate care facilities desperately need help from the federal government to obtain sufficient supplies and personal protective equipment to protect their residents.

Health care workers have no choice but to reuse disposable PPE due to its scarcity. Nursing homes, assisted living and intermediate care facilities desperately need help from the federal government to obtain sufficient supplies and personal protective equipment to protect their residents. We cannot leave behind our most vulnerable populations just because of our government’s lack of political will to adequately fund Medicaid.

With cases numbers increasing every day and more people becoming unemployed — 5.4 million have lost their health care coverage — due to the pandemic, the demands on our Medicaid program will only intensify. Iowa’s Medicaid program is already stretched to the limits and projected state budget shortfalls paint a bleaker future without the support. In fact, our Medicaid program enrollment is projected to grow between 94,000 to 168,000 people, as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

The pandemic has strained our already scarce resources, threatening our ability to keep hospital doors open as new patients flood our facilities and more COVID-19 cases arise. The influx of patients who rely on Medicaid for care or are uninsured leave hospitals susceptible to closing under financial pressure. Vulnerable communities will further suffer disproportionate health impacts from the virus, if hospitals are strained for basic resources such as masks, gowns, and gloves.

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The next coronavirus relief package must support our health care system and the front-line workers fighting to save lives. We need our leaders to provide the funding and resources so we can do our jobs effectively. While we do our jobs, Congress and the President must step up and do the same. We need immediate action to address the gap in financial resources for health care workers and to ensure that Iowans who need health care the most are able to access essential care.

Dr. Glenn Hurst of Minden is a family practice physician and advocate for improving health care in Iowa.

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