As health bill teeters, Medicaid recipients watch nervously

With the latest Republican health care overhaul teetering near collapse, one group in particular is watching with heightened anxiety.

The debate in Congress is personal for many of those who gained coverage through Medicaid in the 31 states that expanded the program under former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Alan Purser, who lives in eastern Arkansas, credits expanded Medicaid with saving his life, after a routine doctor’s visit ended with him being hospitalized and treated for multiple blood clots in both lungs. The 60-year-old diabetic said he would not be able to afford his insulin medication because he does not qualify for traditional Medicaid.

“I am going to be up a creek if it goes through,” he said.

The Medicaid expansion brought health insurance to some 11 million lower-income Americans, helping drive the nation’s uninsured rate to just 9 percent. That program would have ended in three years under the initial version of the Republican’s latest health care bill, triggering widespread uncertainty for both recipients and states facing the prospect of winding down their coverage.

The latest GOP effort appeared to be doomed late Monday when Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine announced her opposition, citing in part the proposed cuts to Medicaid that she described as “devastating.” With Democrats united in opposition, the only way Republicans can revive the bill is to alter it in ways they hope will change opposing senators’ minds.

States signed up for the Medicaid expansion under the promise that the federal government would pick up the vast majority of the costs. Experts and officials in several of the states that opted for it said that under the GOP plan they would not have the ability to cover the costs of all those who benefited.

“I don’t want to have to look those people in the eye and say you are losing your health insurance,” said Nevada state Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle, a Democrat.

In his state, more than 300,000 people gained health insurance through the expansion, which extended coverage to more lower-income Americans by raising the income limit. Most were adults with no children at home.

Kentucky was another state seeing big gains under Obama’s health care law, its uninsured rate dropping from 14.3 percent before it took effect to 5.1 percent last year. The 64 percent decline was the largest of any state, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nearly all that gain was because Kentucky’s former…

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