Op-Ed: Celebrating Medicaid at 50

This piece originally ran in the Courier-Journal on July 28. It ran in the Richmond Register on July 31

If we’re being perfectly honest, few look forward to turning 50 years old and celebrating is the last thing they want to do.

But while many of us aren’t interested in celebrating 50 years of life, 50 years of a successful program is a real cause for a party. And that’s why I am excited about Medicaid’s 50th.

The health program covering low-income families, children, seniors and people with disabilities turns the BIG 5-0 on July 30, celebrating five decades of providing not only high quality, cost-efficient health coverage, but also economic security and peace of mind.

Why celebrate a government program turning 50 years old? Well to start, Medicaid plays a major role in providing affordable health coverage to people who wouldn’t otherwise have insurance. In fact, more than 947,000 Kentuckians receive care through Medicaid, and half of these people are children. Medicaid allows them to get the care they need without fear that expensive medical bills from an illness or injury will drive them to bankruptcy. It also helps nearly 99,000 seniors with health care, including in-home services or nursing home care. And it covers more than 230,000 people with disabilities, giving them access to care that makes it possible to live independently.

Secondly, Medicaid provides a really good bang for the buck. The program’s administrative costs are less than half of those of private insurers. Medicaid also spends less per patient and costs are growing at a slower rate than for private insurance.

Thirdly, Medicaid helps make families healthier. More than 44 percent of babies born every year in our Commonwealth are born to mothers who have received prenatal care through Medicaid, which is critical to the health of newborns. Those babies then qualify for care until their families’ financial situation improves enough to make them no longer eligible.

But Medicaid doesn’t just help these kids as newborns; it has lasting effects on their lives. Kids who receive Medicaid do better in school, miss fewer days because of illness, are more likely to graduate college and more likely to have higher earnings as an adult compared to children in similar situations who don’t receive this care. These benefits are too important to ignore.

Now, thanks to our state’s expansion of Medicaid, thousands more adults are getting the preventive care they need and we’re making progress towards improving Kentuckians’ health. In the first year alone, more than 80,000 people received preventive dental services that many of us take for granted.

Another 34,000 women were tested for cervical cancer and 26,000 were screened for breast cancer. These types of preventative care and early detection of health problems work: an important study has shown that states that have expanded Medicaid coverage for low-income adults in the past have seen a six percent decline in mortality as a result.

And finally, Medicaid helps the economy of our state. In addition to making the workforce stronger through better health, the program pumps billions of federal dollars into the state each year. This money provides jobs for nurses, doctors and other health care professionals. A recent independent study by Deloitte shows that Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion will create 40,000 jobs.

Considering all these reasons to celebrate Medicaid, our birthday present should be to protect the expansion of the program. Gov. Steve Beshear made the right call by expanding Medicaid by executive order, and now it’s time for lawmakers to put national politics aside and work together to improve the implementation of the program.

Medicaid has been a great present to Kentucky for 50 years. The best way to celebrate its birthday is to make sure we solidify its successes for 50 more years to come.

Kentucky Tonight: Jobs and Wages

10 Reasons to Celebrate Medicaid’s 50th Birthday

50 years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed the law creating Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and elderly. In lieu of big cakes with candles, here are 10 reasons why Medicaid should last for at least another 50 years, based in part on a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

1. It provides health coverage to 947,100 people in our state.

That’s nearly 1 in 4 Kentuckians who can get the care they need for themselves or their children without being pushed into or further into poverty. Medicaid helps get Kentucky closer to universal coverage, providing health care to those that private insurers will not cover.

2. Roughly half of recipients are children.

To be precise, 461,800 of those covered by Medicaid are kids. That’s about 3 in 7 Kentucky children who can get needed vaccinations and screenings vital to their health. Forty-four percent of births in Kentucky are covered by Medicaid. Additionally, children who receive coverage under Medicaid are more likely to do better in school, miss less class, graduate college and earn more as adults than children in similar situations who aren’t covered by Medicaid.

3. Medicaid makes people healthier.

People covered by Medicaid are more likely to have better health outcomes in part because they can better access preventive care like cancer screenings and vaccinations. When sick, they can go to a clinic or doctor’s office to be treated, instead of letting problems persist to the point of emergency care. One study showed a 6.1 percent reduction in mortality five years after the expansion of Medicaid in three states.

4. It covers the elderly and disabled.

98,300 seniors and 242,400 disabled Kentuckians receive health coverage through Medicaid, which, depending on their needs, allows them to live independently by covering in-home care or in residential facilities.

5. Medicaid provides financial security.

People on Medicaid are less likely than people without insurance to go into medical debt or to neglect other bills due to high medical costs.

6. Medicaid is efficient.

Medicaid costs a couple hundred dollars less than private insurance for children and nearly $1,500 less for adults. Administrative costs for the program are six percent, less than half of private insurance. And spending on Medicaid per enrollee has grown more slowly than spending by private insurers.

7. The Medicaid expansion is helping fill the insurance gap for low-income adults.

When Kentucky decided to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, more than 400,000 people were able to access health care by enrolling in Medicaid. That dropped the state’s uninsured rate from 20.4 percent to 9.8 percent in just one year, the second-biggest decline of any state.

8. It helps create jobs and revenue.

More coverage through Medicaid means the need for more doctors, nurses and other health professionals. The expansion of Medicaid in Kentucky is expected to create 40,000 jobs, according to an independent study commissioned by the state. Those jobs are expected to bring in an additional $1.1 billion in income, sales and other tax revenues between now and 2021.

9. It covers more than just routine doctor visits.

According to the same study, more than 80,000 new Medicaid participants received preventive dental services in 2014, thanks to expansion. Additionally, 90,000 had cholesterol screenings and 46,000 were screened for diabetes. Coverage under Medicaid isn’t just for the common cold; it helps prevent serious conditions before they worsen.

10. It helps insure people in every county in Kentucky.

Medicaid doesn’t just help people in the urban and Appalachian areas of Kentucky. The expansion of the program has lowered the uninsured rate in all 120 counties. In some cases, the uninsured rate was cut in half, if not more significantly, allowing for better health outcomes throughout the Commonwealth.

As Medicaid Turns 50, Nearly a Million Kentuckians are Covered

The Tangled Web of State Tax Reform

Kentucky Finishes Fiscal Year With Budget Surplus

Good for a Rainy Day: State’s Emergency Fund Grows as Shortfalls Remain

Kentucky’s Rainy Day Fund at Highest Level Since 2008

Kentucky Tonight: Tax Reform

A $10.10 Minimum Wage is Not the Same as a Living Wage