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COMMENTARY: Nevada Medicaid expansion has been a roaring success

More than 50 years ago, on July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the monumental and transformational Social Security Amendments of 1965. In addition to reforming Social Security, the measure created the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs. For two generations, Medicaid has played an instrumental role in lifting people — particularly children, older adults, and people living with disabilities — out of poverty.

In 2014 under Gov. Brian Sandoval’s leadership, Nevada expanded Medicaid, allowing more than 210,000 Nevadans to gain health coverage. Prior to the expansion, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, there were 332,560 Nevadans covered by Medicaid. Following the expansion, 631,128 Nevadans were insured under this program. Medicaid expansion was so successful in our state that we had the largest percentage decrease of uninsured children in the nation — from 14.9 percent in 2013 to 6.8 percent in 2016. Nearly half (48 percent) of Nevadans covered by the Medicaid program are children.

Despite this proven record of accomplishment, recent efforts by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress have threatened to turn back the clock on that progress. Thanks to people in Nevada and across the country who have raised their voices and shared their own stories on how Medicaid has made it possible for them to stay healthy, we’ve been able to defend against the most egregious attacks on Medicaid.

Consider the story of Vivian Leal of Reno, who was uninsured when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. Without proper medical treatment, Vivian was unable to live a conventional life and felt like a hostage to the disease. Then she was able to enroll in Medicaid after Nevada expanded the program in 2012. Vivian is now able to access proper medication and lead a productive life thanks to Medicaid.

Medicaid also played a vital role for Shanna Burgos and her daughter, Kristen. When Kristen was born, she was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which two or more bones of the skull close prematurely before the brain is fully formed, interfering with normal growth of the brain and skull. Kristen also suffered from a Chiari malformation, a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. Because of Medicaid, Kristen was properly diagnosed and was able to receive the proper treatment. Medicaid has given Kristen the ability to see a doctor regularly and given Shanna some peace of mind knowing that her daughter has access to the care she desperately needs.

Today, we are proud to celebrate the anniversary of Medicaid’s creation and highlight its important role in expanding access to health coverage and reducing health disparities in the United States. Medicaid fills a crucial gap in health care for low-income families and individuals, including children, parents, seniors, caregivers, pregnant women and people living with disabilities. Beyond serving as a lifeline for those who need health care but cannot afford coverage, Medicaid is cost-effective and gives states flexibility to design their programs to improve health outcomes.

Medicaid has been beneficial for hundreds of thousands of Nevadans. The people of our state demand quality, affordable health care and continue to reject attempts to sabotage Medicaid. We are committed to defending the program, raising up stories of success and look forward to working across the state to ensure Medicaid remains a bedrock of our health care system for generations to come.

Larry Matheis is the former CEO of the Nevada Medical Center and a current member of the Nevadans Together for Health Access coalition.

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