Medicaid Beneficiaries Are Not Who You Think

Jun 22, 2011

By Elizabeth Kenefick

Four in 10 births are covered by Medicaid. One in three children receive comprehensive health insurance through Medicaid. Nine million low-income seniors have their Medicare cost-sharing premiums covered by Medicaid. Eight million people with disabilities receive coverage for services they otherwise would not receive, and some of them can work because of Medicaid.

In total, about 60 million people rely on Medicaid for health services. They are young, they are old, and they are diverse. They are parents and pregnant women, they are children, they are people with disabilities, and they are low-income seniors. With about one in five people covered by Medicaid, most of us know someone or receive needed health coverage through this program.

Medicaid is far reaching and beneficial for the public good and public health, but it is among the targets for deep program cuts in several pending deficit reduction proposals.

Most recently, rumors are spreading that Medicaid will be the source of the largest federal entitlement cuts in the emerging bipartisan deficit negotiations led by Vice President Biden. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget plan, which passed the House in April, would make Medicaid a block grant. This could result in loss of coverage, scaled back benefits and/or larger out-of-pocket costs for millions of Americans. And the constitutional balanced budget amendment legislation that passed the House last week pushed the line even further as it could mean cutting more than half of the federal funding for the program by 2021.

Medicaid is an easy target. Its constituency is vast, but it isn't the most vocal. Yet deep cuts to the program will not solve the nation's deficit problem. It will, however, adversely affect the most vulnerable among us, the 60 million children, pregnant women, disabled, and low-income seniors who need the program's services to stay healthy or receive health services.

It is politically expedient to support deficit reduction in the abstract, whether in the form of spending caps or balanced budget amendments.  But these mechanisms - particularly when lawmakers refuse to consider revenue raisers such as ending tax breaks for the wealthy or closing corporate tax loopholes - inherently mean that the most vulnerable will be affected deeply and disproportionately. 

Forty-one Senate Democrats have taken a stand to defend Medicaid against block granting, caps, or other attempts to drastically reduce the critical lifeline that Medicaid provides.  We hope that they will stand their ground, and that others will join them, as the deficit talks continue.  The negotiators must remember these faces of Medicaid. and Half in Ten have collected stories of Medicaid beneficiaries.

site by Trilogy Interactive