Despite the surge in enrollment and spending—or perhaps because of it—Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, has failed to fulfill its stated goal of improving health-care access for the indigent and disabled. A recent report from the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury highlighted the conundrum many of the state’s Medicaid enrollees face: “You’ve Got Medi-Cal, but Can You Get Medical Care?” By extending Medi-Cal to younger, healthier people—many of whom could be better served by the kind of bare-bones private insurance that ObamaCare outlawed—California has made it harder for those who most need low-cost care to get it.
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Medicaid has become one of the most hotly debated issues in health reform. Almost all agree that reform is badly needed. In Congress, it has become a numbers game about millions of people and billions of dollars. One side decries the poor health outcomes that will derive from people losing coverage; the other argues that Medicaid desperately needs reform, not only to serve today’s recipients but also to effect solvency for future generations. Many are being told that empowering the federal government further is the way forward; conversely states, both red and blue, feel they can better serve their citizens if they were given more flexibility in managing Medicaid. How Medicaid is reformed is critical to the future of health care reform because it will form the template for the design of Medicare and private insurance going forward.
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Rolling back ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion has become the focal point of the health-care debate, and rightly so. Without fundamental change, Medicaid—expanded or not—will push state budgets to the brink even as it fails to help the most financially vulnerable Americans.
Consider Oklahoma, our home state. Despite intense lobbying by hospital corporations, the state Legislature stood strong and refused the Medicaid expansion. But the Medicaid rolls increased anyway, and at a dramatic cost to priorities like education, public safety and transportation.
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We are 2 former Administrators of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, under Presidents Barack Obama and George H. W. Bush. Although we represent different political parties, we take pride in the accomplishments of these 2 programs, which collectively help millions of US residents get the health care they need.
Medicaid has become a major focus in the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), because the proposed replacement bills go beyond the ACA into the underlying Medicaid program that was originally passed by Congress in 1965. As we have overseen the Medicaid program at various stages, we are familiar with its successes, its areas for improvement, its effect on state budgets, and its importance to millions of ordinary people who count on the program and will need it in the future.
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In the 1990s, there was plenty of teeth-gnashing by welfare reform opponents over changing the funding structure for cash assistance, implementing work requirements, and creating time limits – rhetoric that sounds eerily similar to much of the health reform coverage today.
Mostly absent from the welfare discussion was the role that earned income tax credits (EITC) would play in reform. Similarly, in the current health care debates over Medicaid changes there is a lack of any reference to proposed tax credits.
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- 56% say Medicaid should target set spending to the disabled, elderly, children, and pregnant women in poverty based on their specific needs.
- 62% say it is a bad thing that Medicaid expansion spends money on childless adults, rather than the most vulnerable populations the program was designed to serve.
- 57% say it is a bad thing that Obamacare gave states higher reimbursements for adding able-bodied adults to Medicaid than for serving the elderly and disabled.
The last man to pull out of the Republican race against Donald Trump was John Kasich, the Ohio governor, a long-shot contender for the presidential nomination whose chances had long since faded. But he has returned to the role of thorn in Mr Trump’s side as Republicans in Washington struggle to reform Obamacare, leading a group of governors trashing their own party’s plan.
The intra-party revolt is rooted in Republican proposals to gut Medicaid, a programme for the poor that provides insurance to 69m Americans. Republicans have long seen it as an emblem of mismanaged welfare programmes that distend government and discourage people from working. But Mr Kasich is showing change is afoot.
He was one of 16 governors from Republican-led states that took an option to expand Medicaid offered by Obamacare, adding 700,000 Ohioans to the programme, despite the broad distaste for Barack Obama’s reforms in his party. In recent weeks he has stressed its vital role in treating people ravaged by opioids and other drugs, which killedan average of 11 Ohioans each day last year, and those suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.
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Republican efforts to pass health-care legislation are in jeopardy again, in part because of controversy over its potential impact on Medicaid. But the Republican reforms are more moderate, and more worthwhile, than they are getting credit for.
The CBO is exaggerating the effects of the Republican legislation on Medicaid enrollment, it’s worth putting Medicaid on a firmer footing, and any additional resources for health insurance for low earners should be directed toward enabling them to buy private coverage rather than pumped into Medicaid. On Medicaid, in short, the Republicans are on the right track.
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