DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A push that Democratic lawmakers initiated Tuesday to expand Medicaid in Iowa would likely translate into new or improved health benefits for thousands of the state's low-income residents.
Broadening the program could mean that people like Terri White, a 51-year-old widow from Fort Dodge, would for the first time have comprehensive health insurance. White qualities for a state health program called IowaCare, but it doesn't cover the cost of her thyroid medication.
"You're supposed to try and take care of yourself and then you can't because you can't afford the medicine," she said.
The medicine cost her $50 this month, though she will be able to get it for $26 in the future. White makes about $800 a month working part time both as a teacher associate for a Head Start program and as a bartender.
Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, and Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, introduced legislation Tuesday that would broaden eligibility requirements for the Medicaid program in Iowa, which covers low-income residents, including children and the disabled. President Barack Obama's health care overhaul provides funding to states that expand Medicaid.
"I think it makes sense financially, economically and more importantly (provides) the security that Iowa families need, so they don't have to worry about being uninsured," Hatch said. "We're going to be relentless about getting this in front of our colleagues."
Gov. Terry Branstad has opposed an expansion, questioning the cost to the state. The federal government would pay the full cost of the expansion for three years and then the state would gradually assume 10 percent of the costs for the new enrollees.
Under the plan, the Medicaid eligibility limit would be raised to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,400 annually for an individual. If expanded, as many as 150,000 people could be added to the state's Medicaid rolls, mostly low-income adults who don't have children. Some of those people are currently covered by IowaCare, which provides limited coverage to low-income adults.
IowaCare, the program White said she is currently enrolled in, is set to expire at the end of the year, though Branstad is seeking federal funds to extend it.
"If we don't get (Medicaid expansion) done this session, the 70,000 people who are in IowaCare will lose health insurance," Hatch said. "We want to replace it with a more robust health care program."
Health care advocates — including the Iowa Hospital Association, the American Association for Retired Persons and the American Cancer Society — spoke in favor of an expansion Tuesday at the state Capitol.
"Iowans deserve a better health care system than we currently have," said AARP state president Tony Vola.