With House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Medicare privatization scheme essentially dead, policy wonks are worried that his draconian cuts to the Medicaid program could be seen as an area for bipartisan consensus. Recall that Ryan aims to repeal health reform’s expansion in Medicaid coverage and transform the program’s matching rate financing structure — under which the federal government pays 50 to 75 percent of each state’s Medicaid costs — into a block grant that would pay states less than projected costs. Federal spending on Medicaid would fall by $1.4 trillion from 2012 to 2021 and so states would be forced to either make-up the shortfall in funding or limit eligibility and benefits.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study recently found that up to 44 million Americans could potentially lose their health insurance and now a Kaiser poll discovers that the cuts also face steep public opposition:
About 60 percent of Americans want Congress to keep Medicaid in its current form with the federal government guaranteeing coverage and setting minimum benefits for states to follow, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Just over half said they didn’t want to see funds cut. [...]
The poll found public support for Medicaid was similar to that of Medicare and Social Security — two programs whose longstanding public support has made them nearly untouchable by politicians.
Just 13 percent of Americans say they would support major reductions in Medicaid spending as part of Congress’ efforts to reduce the deficit, the Kaiser survey found. That compares to 10 percent supporting major reductions in Medicare and Social Security.
Strong public support of Medicaid appears a dividend of many Americans either receiving assistance from the program or knowing a family member or friend who has. While 56 million Americans are enrolled in Medicaid at one time, about 69 million are enrolled at some point during the year as people go in and out of the program.
Other polls have shown that Medicaid — which is still perceived as a program for the poor — usually ranks third in public support after Medicare and Social Security. But given the recession, Americans’ greater reliance on the program, and its increasing expenditures on seniors and people with disabilities, it could be on its way to achieving the kind of protected status that Medicare enjoys.