Medicaid makes a difference

Jul 31, 2019

If you’ve opened up the newspaper or turned on the television lately, you’ve probably come across a story about “Medicare for All”. Proposals to expand the role of Medicare (America’s public health insurance program for people age 65 or older) have been introduced in Congress and have made their way into the stump speeches and campaign platforms of many of the 2020 Democratic candidates for President. But why has all the discussion centered on Medicare for all? What about its sister program, Medicaid?

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed both Medicare and Medicaid into law on July 30, 1965 as part of his “Great Society” movement that aimed to eliminate poverty. The two programs were both designed with the common goal of providing basic health insurance coverage for some of our most vulnerable Americans including the elderly (covered by Medicare) and pregnant women, children, individuals with low-incomes, and individuals with disabilities (covered by Medicaid).

To help us understand whether we should be talking about “Medicaid for all” alongside or instead of “Medicare for all,” let’s dig into some basic information about Medicaid.

So what is Medicaid? Medicaid is health insurance. Medicaid serves vulnerable low-income populations including individuals with disabilities and children in the foster care system. Medicaid also serves as a critical safety net, providing temporary help to individuals and families in crisis (e.g. after the loss of a job or a major accident).

Who gets Medicaid? Medicaid is a primary insurer of children facing adversity, as well as young children whose brains and bodies are rapidly developing. In Iowa, Medicaid covers:

  • 79 percent of children living in or near poverty
  • 37 percent of newborns in the critical first year of life
  • 40 percent of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers
  • 47 percent of children with special health needs
  • 100 percent of children in foster care

Medicaid also provides health coverage to low-wage workers in jobs without benefits. Medicaid helps these folks—who fill needed roles in farming, construction, food service, home health care and child care.

Medicaid makes a difference for Iowa kids and families. When families have access to affordable health care through programs like Medicaid, they can get the care they need to ensure small health problems don’t become bigger issues. That means healthier more reliable workers who spend less time at the doctor’s office and miss fewer days of work due to illness.

Medicaid helps set kids on a path to be successful adults. Research shows that compared with their uninsured peers, children enrolled in Medicaid are more likely to 1) miss fewer days of school; 2) perform better in school; 3) graduate high school and go to college; 4) earn higher wages and become tax-paying adults. By covering important health services that set children on a path to healthy adulthood, Medicaid supports the long-term financial stability of our health care system.

In sum, Medicaid is a comprehensive health insurance program that provides high-quality health care to millions of Americans and thousands of Iowans. So why aren’t we talking about “Medicaid for all”? It comes down to perceptions of who is “deserving” and “undeserving” of health care. Policymakers have shied away from making any substantial changes to the Medicare program (in terms of scaling back benefits or reducing the eligibility standards) because the elderly are viewed, by and large, as “deserving” of the health care coverage they receive through the Medicare program. On the other hand, the Medicaid program has been under threat for years with proposals to reduce enrollment and scale back benefits repeatedly surfacing at both the state and federal levels. Medicaid has been a much more likely target for these cuts because the populations it covers (specifically low-income individuals) are often seen as “undeserving” of the health care coverage they receive through the Medicaid program. As a result, “Medicare for all” is seen as a more politically palatable vehicle to work towards universal health care coverage than “Medicaid for all”. But now that you know about all the great things Medicaid does, maybe you can help “flip the script” and lift up the important ways that Medicaid makes a difference.

We all want Iowa to be the healthiest state in the nation. Medicaid helps us make progress toward that goal. It makes it possible for thousands of low-income Iowa children and adults to get and stay healthy by allowing them to see a doctor when they are sick, get check-ups, buy medications, and go to the hospital without fear of choosing between their health and groceries or paying the rent or mortgage. Medicaid makes a difference for thousands of Iowans—our neighbors, friends, and family members. Medicaid makes a difference for Iowa. By committing to provide our children with high-quality health care when they need it, we give them a greater chance of succeeding in life—and the helps all of us everywhere.

Related Issues & Ideas

Guide

Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap

View Prenatal-to-3 State Policy Roadmap
Website

Frameworks Institute: Changing the conversation on social issues

View Frameworks Institute: Changing the conversation on social issues
Report

Cultivating Change: How the HealthConnect Fellowship lifted a network of advocates to improve children's health in central Iowa

View Cultivating Change: How the HealthConnect Fellowship lifted a network of advocates to improve children's health in central Iowa
Report

Shifting the Lens: How The ACE Study sparked action to collectively improve our community's health

View Shifting the Lens: How The ACE Study sparked action to collectively improve our community's health
Website

National Academy of Medicine

View National Academy of Medicine
Website

Grant Makers in Health

View Grant Makers in Health
White Paper

Understanding the Upstream Social Determinants of Health

View Understanding the Upstream Social Determinants of Health
Report

Addressing Patients' Social Needs: An Emerging Business Case for Provider Investment

View Addressing Patients' Social Needs: An Emerging Business Case for Provider Investment
Report

Innovations in Health Equity and Health Philanthropy

View Innovations in Health Equity and Health Philanthropy
Website

Centers for Disease Control

View Centers for Disease Control
Report

United Way Community Impact Report

View United Way Community Impact Report
Report

1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative 2020 Report

View 1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative 2020 Report
Report

2020 One Economy: The Blueprint for Action

View 2020 One Economy: The Blueprint for Action
Policy Brief

Strengthening Medicaid

View Strengthening Medicaid
Website

CAMHI4Kids Children's Mental Health System

View CAMHI4Kids Children's Mental Health System

How Youth Are Driving Community Efforts to End Homelessness

dsm Magazine features a unique collaboration that is engaging youth who’ve experienced homelessness in identifying new solutions to address this issue in central Iowa.

View Story
View Story

Planning from strength: questions to ask your team

Advocacy
Apr 26, 2021
View Post

Preparing yourself to center the voices of those impacted by issues

View Post

Vision vs. Tactics: How we can achieve the change we want to see

Action planning
Feb 22, 2021
View Post

System-change achievements advocates are making for central Iowa’s kids

View Post

How we can begin to find peace in 2021

View Post

Disconnection matters

System change
Nov 24, 2020
View Post

3 questions to reshape your policy agenda

Advocacy
Oct 30, 2020
View Post

What you should know about homelessness in central Iowa during the pandemic

Community response
Oct 26, 2020
View Post

Leading system change, even in times of uncertainty

System change
Jul 22, 2020
View Post

We must all do our part to be anti-racist

View Post

Lessons in preventing burnout

View Post

5 barriers pregnant women in poverty face in getting the care they need

View Post

What I've learned about system-change work during this time of crisis

System change
Jun 11, 2020
View Post

What the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us about system change

System change
May 10, 2020
View Post

We have the resources to build a better food system here in Iowa

View Post

What we should do about COVID-19 racial disparities in Iowa

Advocacy
May 6, 2020
View Post

11 best practices for working from home during COVID-19

Leadership
Apr 8, 2020
View Post

5 things you must know about migrant farmworkers in Iowa

Community response
Mar 30, 2020
View Post

4 ways to understand weight stigma and promote a healthier community

View Post

5 lessons learned in building the village of support for early-grade reading

View Post