Why you should care
Because Medicaid isn’t just for the poor and the elderly.
People tend to take their health for granted, until something catastrophic — like an unexpected illness or accident — comes along to change that. The lucky ones have access to health care through employers or spouses, and can focus on recovery without the added burden of steep medical bills. But then there are the not-so-lucky ones — the one in five Americans who rely on Medicaid, a federal and state-partnered health care program that serves as a safety net for 74 million Americans.
According to a recent study by Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH) — a not-for-profit health care provider based in Washington — the more people know about Medicaid, the more likely they are to appreciate its value. Let’s start here: 63 percent of the population says Medicaid is important, but that number jumps to 90 percent when people actually read a description of the program. This insight has been driving much of PSJH’s national campaigns, including an educational initiative called The Many Faces of Medicaid.
“We want to show people how Medicaid is a lifeline,” says Ali Santore, group vice president of government and public affairs at Providence St. Joseph Health. “And in most places it’s a temporary lifeline for people to get back on their feet again.”
Too often Medicaid is thought of as a crutch for people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, living at or below the poverty line ($25,000 per year for a family of four), but the program covers so much more. For example, it helps people like David from Oregon, a 69-year-old father of six who suffered a serious stroke and could not have managed his recovery without Medicaid’s help. Or a 10-week premature baby in Alaska, whose life-saving surgery his parents would not have been able to afford without Medicaid.
Medicaid saves lives — and it’s also a smart financial decision for many states. “Health care is not like any other commodity,” says Daniel Skinner, assistant professor of health policy at Ohio University. “Everybody needs it. And if they don’t get it, the costs of not getting it will be socialized, whether it’s through the emergency room or something else.”
Skinner points to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who opposed his own political party in 2016 by expanding Medicaid. The move wasn’t just prompted by a belief that Medicaid is a matter of life and death, but also because he saw it as economically sound. His strategy involves putting more federal money towards streamlining basic medical services, vaporizing redundancies and confronting the costly nursing-home industry.
And Ohio is not an outlier — there are plenty of other states that recognize the same financial benefits. Take Oregon as one example. The Oregon Health Insurance Study— which came about after the state launched a controversial health care lottery in 2008 that resulted in some people having Medicaid and others not — found that Medicaid actually reduced financial strain and minimized the number of patients diagnosed with depression.
Two of the biggest takeaways from this study, according to Skinner: people with Medicaid received access to mental health treatment, many for the first time; and people with Medicaid don’t have to go bankrupt from medical needs. “Because of Medicaid,” Skinner adds, “these people can pay their rent, keep their heat on and put food on the table.”
Beyond the details of an individual’s medical history or personal backstory, there’s an essential, unifying belief that health is a human right, and no one should be forced into sacrificing other key aspects of life to receive adequate health care. “[At PSJH] we believe that when people have access to coverage, everybody wins: individuals, families, communities and the economy,” Santore says. “And we strongly support the Medicaid program.”