Sen. Lamar Alexander Repeatedly Calls Medicaid A ‘Medical Ghetto’

Today on the Senate floor, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) railed against Medicaid, the health insurance program funded by both the federal and state governments for low-income Americans, by calling it a “medical ghetto” and blasting Democrats for proposing to expand the program:

— “We’ve heard eloquent statements about how moving 15 million low-income Americans into a program called Medicaid, which is a medical ghetto, is not health care reform.”

— “The governor of Tennessee, who is a Democratic governor, has estimated that the cost to our state of this bill — of moving 15 million Americans into this medical ghetto — is about $800 million over five years.”

— “Or arrogant in its dumping of 15 million low-income Americans into a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us, or any of our families, would ever want to be a part of for our health care.”

Watch it:

Conservatives frequently rail against this program, which currently covers around 60 million Americans, including people who are often rejected by private plans. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has suggested that people are better off uninsured than insured under Medicaid.

While Alexander may think he is too good for Medicaid coverage, a 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 74 percent of Americans consider Medicaid very important and most would oppose cuts to the program. Families USA has pointed out that, despite its flaws, Medicaid is cost-effective and provides a solid foundation on which to expand coverage:

Medicaid is cost-effective compared to private health insurance. After controlling for health status (since Medicaid enrollees tend to have greater health care needs), it costs more than 20 percent less to cover low-income people in Medicaid than it does to cover them in private health insurance.

The program protects low-income Americans from uncontrollable out-of-pocket costs charged by private insurers and also “covers services not usually covered in private health insurance.” Under the Senate health bill, “most nonelderly people with income below 133 percent of the [federal poverty line] would be made eligible for Medicaid” starting in 2014. Additionally, the legislation would “increase federal Medicaid funding for states that cover recommended preventive services and immunizations at no extra cost.”