The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Report: Gogebic, Ontonagon counties vulnerable to Obamacare repeal



Gogebic and Ontonagon counties are among the most vulnerable counties in the state to the potential repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law, according to a Bridge Magazine report published in January.

The report, which looked at the correlation between the number of residents using either Medicaid expansion or Obamacare plans and how each county voted in the presidential election, found the two counties were among 27 in Michigan with more than 11 percent of their populations through such a plan.

According to the study, Gogebic County has 811 residents — or 5.3 percent — on an Obamacare policy and another 1,098 residents — 7.1 percent — on a Medicaid expansion plan. An additional 10.4 percent are getting regular Medicaid. In Ontonagon County, 340 residents — or 5.7 percent — have an Obamacare plan and other 413 — 6.9 percent — have health care through Medicaid expansion. An additional 7.9 percent have regular Medicaid.

With 12.6 percent of its population on either Obamacare or the Medicaid expansion plans, Ontonagon County ties four other counties for the fifth highest rate in the state, while Gogebic County’s 12.4 percent is the 11th highest in the state due to a five-county tie.

Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 4,019 to 2,925 in Gogebic County, and 2,060 to 1,223 in Ontonagon County.

Statewide, the study reports more than 630,000 people have joined the state’s Medicaid rolls since the state legislature approved expanded coverage in early 2014 in reaction to Obamacare offering additional federal funding to states to cover those making up to $33,000 for a family of four or $16,000 for a single person each year, according to the report, up from the traditional Medicaid limits of just below $25,000 and $12,000, respectively.

Michigan residents have also been able to buy private health insurance through federal exchanges since 2014. As of late last year, the study found more than 345,000 Michigan residents have been covered by such policies.

With such a large number of residents on these plans, changes to health care at the federal level have the potential to impact a sizable portion of not only the Gogebic Range, but the entire Upper Peninsula — especially if those changes also impact Medicare policies as well.

A provider’s view

The unknown future of national health care policy also impacts providers who serve patients in rural communities, according to Aspirus Upper Peninsula Regional CEO Chuck Nelson. Nelson oversees Aspirus’ Keweenaw, Iron River, Ontonagon and Ironwood facilities.

While Aspirus isn’t necessarily taking a position on whether Obama’s health care law — also known as the Affordable Care Act, or the ACA — should be repealed, Nelson said he hopes any potential repeal comes with a replacement.

“Ideally, clarity in detail for any new plan to replace the ACA would be developed and communicated prior to the repeal of the ACA,” Nelson told the Daily Globe. “Sudden suspension of the ACA without a suitable replacement could jeopardize multiple funding support structures that are currently part of standard operating procedure for our rural critical access hospitals. With time to understand and adjust to new policies, Aspirus can best perform to serve our patients.”

Nelson pledged to continue providing treatment to patients regardless of whether they have insurance.

“As a non-profit health care system, Aspirus is dedicated to providing health care services to everyone in the communities we serve, regardless of their ability to pay. We currently work within the framework of existing Medicaid, Medicare and ACA programs to bring the very best health care possible locally for our patients,” Nelson said. “With reasonable time to adjust to any new programs that are created, we feel confident that our patients will receive the care they require now and in the future.”

Regardless of what the changes are, Nelson said Aspirus would continue to work to communicate with affected patients as it happens.

“Aspirus patient navigators and financial counselors are already in place and helping our patients navigate health care insurances and programs,” he said. “Any new program would be communicated through our already strong system of patient communication.”


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