HHS Secretary Advocates for Medicaid Expansion to Improve Rural Health Outcomes

Medicaid expansion could significantly improve rural health outcomes, particularly for maternal and infant health, according to HHS Secretary Becerra. Mississippi legislators are negotiating a plan to extend coverage to thousands of residents.

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Bijay Laxmi
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HHS Secretary Advocates for Medicaid Expansion to Improve Rural Health Outcomes

HHS Secretary Advocates for Medicaid Expansion to Improve Rural Health Outcomes

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told a Senate panel that expanding Medicaid in more states could significantly improve rural health outcomes, particularly for maternal and infant health. During a hearing on the administration's budget request, Becerra noted that many women in states like Mississippi, which has not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, are not receiving early care that could lead to better health outcomes.

Becerra estimated that if Medicaid was expanded in all states, an additional 1.5 million Americans, many of them women, would have access to earlier care. “Many of the women who are having bad outcomes could have qualified for earlier care had they been eligible for Medicaid,” Becerra said. “I think if we expand Medicaid in some of the states that haven’t yet done it, about a million and a half more Americans, many of them women who want to deliver a baby, would have access to earlier care and not wait until it’s a difficult circumstance in the delivery.”

Why this matters: Medicaid expansion remains a contentious issue in several states, particularly in the South. Improving access to healthcare in rural areas could have significant implications for public health outcomes and healthcare costs.

The HHS Secretary also discussed the need to implement a law passed by Congress in 2018, known as Jessie's Law, that allows doctors to access a patient's prior history of substance use disorder to make informed care decisions. Becerra acknowledged that the agency is working to address privacy concerns related to the law, but Senator Joe Manchin expressed frustration at the slow pace of implementation.

Becerra faced questions from Senators about the slow pace of implementing Jessie's Law, which requires HHS to develop best practices for displaying a patient's addiction history to providers. "We are working to navigate the HIPAA privacy obstacles, but I acknowledge the challenges in implementing this law," Becerra said in response to Senator Manchin's concerns.

The push for Medicaid expansion comes as lawmakers in Mississippi prepare to negotiate a final plan that could extend health care coverage to tens of thousands of residents. The House Medicaid Committee Chairwoman's approach could extend benefits to as many as 200,000 people, while the Senate's plan could make 80,000 people eligible for expanded coverage, with only about 40,000 expected to enroll.

Hundreds of Mississippi residents, including ministers, doctors, and advocates, gathered at the state Capitol for a 'Full Expansion Day' rally to urge legislators to expand Medicaid coverage. Faith leaders warned that not expanding Medicaid would be a "death of society" and go against Christian teachings to care for the sick and needy. Proponents argue that expansion could help address Mississippi's high rate of preventable deaths and low labor force participation, while opponents claim it would promote government dependency and increase wait times for health services.

Key Takeaways

  • HHS Sec. Becerra says Medicaid expansion could improve rural health, esp. maternal/infant care
  • Medicaid expansion could provide 1.5M Americans, incl. women, access to earlier healthcare
  • Jessie's Law implementation faces HIPAA privacy concerns, slow progress frustrates lawmakers
  • Mississippi legislators negotiating Medicaid expansion plans, could extend coverage to 200K
  • Advocates argue Medicaid expansion could address high preventable deaths, low labor force