THE BLOG

Obamacare's Medicaid Expansion Helps Middle-Class Families, State Economies

08/06/2012 04:38 pm ET | Updated Oct 06, 2012
  • Ethan Rome Campaign Strategist; former Executive Director, Health Care for America Now

The Republican governors who are making noise about not expanding Medicaid are playing pure politics. They don't like Obamacare and have attacked it for 2-1/2 years in the media, Congress and the courts. But the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, and even the biggest partisans should admit that expanding Medicaid is good for the economy and the financial security of middle-class families.

Let's not forget what Medicaid is about in the first place.

Medicaid is a lifeline for seniors, children, working families and people with disabilities. It creates jobs by pumping dollars into local economies. It keeps open the doors of local hospitals and community health centers. Medicaid keeps millions of middle-class families from going bankrupt from the high cost of nursing-home and in-home care.

Medicaid benefits about 60 million people directly, and it plays a huge role in our lives:
• It's the backbone of nursing home care for seniors.
• It's how the poorest children get sorely needed medical care. Half of Medicaid recipients are children.
• It gives people a chance to get back on their feet when times are tough. Sixty-five percent of people who receive Medicaid are from working families.
• It serves millions of people with severe mental and physical disabilities and helps them live independently in their own homes.

About half of Americans report some personal connection to Medicaid, because they have received health coverage or long‐term care themselves or have a friend or family member who has gotten this type of assistance.

The Obamacare expansion of Medicaid benefits to those making 133 percent of the poverty level is a good deal for states and taxpayers:
• The federal government will pick up 100% of the cost of covering people made newly eligible for the first three years and never pay less than 90 percent a year on a permanent basis.
• States can expand coverage to 17 million people by spending only 2.8% more than they do today. That's serious bang for the buck.
• States do even better when factoring in the savings on uncompensated care for the uninsured. Analysts estimate states will save as much as $100 billion.

Expanding Medicaid will also provide financial relief to hospitals that care for a disproportionate share of uninsured people. Since those families will have coverage in 2014, the law phases out special federal hospital funding that covers unpaid medical bills. If extremist governors refuse the expansion funds, their hospitals will continue to suffer high costs for uncompensated care - but without the important federal dollars that currently fill the gap.

Expanding Medicaid will stimulate the economy. Study after study shows that every Medicaid dollar that flows into a state helps increase overall employment, consumer spending and state tax revenue. The governors that refuse to expand Medicaid will be denying their economies a much-needed boost.

Despite the compelling reasons to expand Medicaid, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a leader of the hyper-partisan radical fringe of the Republican Party, has already announced his intent to say no. Apparently Perry just doesn't care that one out of every four Texas residents is uninsured - the biggest share of uninsured people of any state. It is unconscionable for Perry to stop an additional 1.8 million people from getting health care, especially when the federal government will cover nearly the entire cost.

Florida's Gov. Rick Scott also says he won't expand Medicaid, which is painfully ironic since he didn't mind government-funded health care when his company was bilking the Medicare program to line his own pockets. Scott was forced to resign in 1997 as the CEO of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp when the company pleaded guilty to a litany of criminal and civil charges, including lying to the government so the company could collect bigger fees from the taxpayers for caring for the elderly. As a result, Columbia/HCA agreed to pay a record-setting $1.7 billion in fines and penalties.

Perry and Scott are extremists who put ideology before governing responsibly. Governors who make reflexive, bombastic pronouncements about this issue are practicing politics, not policy. Others shouldn't follow their lead.

Expanding Medicaid is a moral and fiscal imperative. No one should have to worry about their health care or go bankrupt because of crushing medical costs for themselves and their families. Medicaid helps provide health care and economic security for America's families. We can't achieve shared prosperity and equal opportunity in this country if people can't get quality, affordable health care.