Mitt Romney’s proposal to transform Medicaid into a block grant program could reduce access to health care for lower income Americans and jeopardize the health care reform he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports. “As governor, Romney worked closely with the late Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy to secure hundreds of millions per year in federal aid to realize their shared goal of access to health care for all. Expanding Medicaid coverage – and the flow of federal money that came with it – was a key underpinning of the state’s 2006 law”:
“It would have been impossible for Massachusetts to do what it did without increased federal Medicaid support,’’ said John McDonough, a major architect of the state’s health care overhaul law and now director of Harvard University’s Center for Public Health Leadership.
“What he’s proposing is in direct opposition to what he did as governor,’’ said Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director of Health Care for All in Massachusetts, citing the Bay State’s 98 percent coverage rate, the highest in the nation. “That kind of expansion would not have been possible under a block grant program,’’ as Romney has proposed.
Indeed, Romney funded his 2006 health care expansion by re-appropriating state funds and relying on additional federal Medicaid funding he secured from the Bush administration. As Romney himself explained to Bill O’Reilly in April of 2010, “[F]rom the beginning the plan was a 50/50 deal between the federal government and the state government. The Feds fund half of it, they have from the very beginning.” The Boston Globe notes that “approximately 56 percent of the gain in coverage was related to increased federal Medicaid support” in Massachusetts, and of the newly insured, “18 percent gained coverage through Medicaid, and another 38 percent gained coverage through Commonwealth Care, a program that federal Medicaid dollars pay half of.”
As a presidential candidate, however, the former governor has argued that he could lower federal spending on Medicaid by transferring control of the program to the states and transforming the current matching-rate funding structure into block grants that would pay states pre-determined funding amounts. The “blocks” would not increase with health costs or automatically rise during economic downturns.
According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Medicaid block grant proposal — which is very similar to Romney’s — federal expenditures on the program would be “49 percent lower in 2030 than current projected federal spending.” “[T]he magnitude of the reduction in spending relative to such spending in the other scenarios means that states would need to increase their spending on these programs, make considerable cutbacks in them, or both,” the Office concluded. “Cutbacks might involve reduced eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP, coverage of fewer services, lower payments to providers, or increased costsharing by beneficiaries—all of which would reduce access to care.”