CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia is serving as example to other states when it comes to the benefits of expanding Medicaid in a new report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families and the University of North Carolina’s NC Rural Health Project.

Released Tuesday, the report looks at changes in numbers of low-income adults without health insurance between 2008-2009 and 2015-2016.

During that time period, researchers found West Virginia’s uninsured rate in that demographic fell from 35 percent to 14 percent with help from the Medicaid expansion — a 21 percent decline.

“That’s really good news not just, of course, for those folks who are getting coverage, but also in rural areas, it’s especially important for those rural hospitals, those clinics that are seeing patients that are often having a really tough time keep their doors open,” said Joan Alker, one of the study’s authors.

Alker is executive director of the Center for Children and Families and research professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy

The Affordable Care Act that gave the states the option of expanding Medicaid coverage was signed into law in 2010 and West Virginia was among the states to allow Medicaid coverage for low-income adults up to 138 percent of the poverty level.

“What we found in other states that haven’t (expanded) is that it’s really, really hard to make a dent in your uninsured rates in rural areas unless the state expands Medicaid,” said Alker.

Overall, the study found the uninsured rate for low-income adults declined since 2008-2009 in nearly all states, but small towns and rural areas with expanded Medicaid saw some of the sharpest declines.

West Virginia was among the states that recorded the biggest drops in numbers of low-income adults without health insurance living in small towns or rural areas.

Other states on the list included Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon.

“Medicaid is critically important to a state like West Virginia,” Alker said of the report’s findings.

“It’s critically important across the states, but it’s especially important for rural areas and small towns.”

States that recorded the highest rates of uninsured adults in rurals areas were South Dakota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri and Mississippi. “Rural areas in these states would benefit the most from a decision to expand Medicaid,” the report concluded.

In some states, there were coverage disparities between metro and non-metro areas.

“West Virginia really doesn’t have a gap that we often see in other states where rural areas are worse off and the Medicaid expansion is a critical part of ensuring that those rural areas are not left behind,” Alker told MetroNews.

“All in all, West Virginia’s really been heading in the right direction.”

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