This week Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law that will expand Medicaid to include more than 160,000 Coloradans who are currently living without health-care coverage.
Elisabeth Arenales, the Health Program Coordinator for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, pointed out that until now those living without coverage still were getting sick, a problem made worse by a lack of preventive coverage.
"People still get sick whether or not they have health insurance, and they don't get the proper preventive care so they're not going to the doctor, they're not getting their screenings, they're showing up at the emergency room because they don't have a usual source of care," she declared. "They wind up sicker."
Enrollment for the Medicaid expansion will take place this fall and coverage will begin in January. Arenales said most of the people who will be covered under the expansion currently have jobs that don't offer benefits.
She said that although the Medicaid expansion comes as a result of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, the goal of insuring more Coloradans is nothing new.
"Colorado has had this goal of decreasing the number of uninsured for a very long time, and this is a golden opportunity to make that happen," Arenales said. "The Affordable Care Act made it possible for us to realize that goal."
The Medicaid expansion will cover those living on incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, which equates to a single person making about $15,000 a year.
Already-insured people in Colorado also will benefit from the signing of the bill, according to Arenales, who said the state's uninsured currently are placing an additional demand on the health-care system that ultimately gets passed on to others.
"That cost gets shifted to people who are insured," she pointed out. "Hospitals have to make up the gap in payment, and they do that by charging the insurance companies more and insurance companies shift that cost to those of us who are insured."
The Colorado Center on Law and Policy estimates that the Medicaid expansion will also have an economic benefit, putting an estimated $4.4 billion into the state economy over the next 10 years.