Obama Medicaid Expansion Keeps Gaining 08/06 06:16
President Donald Trump is still trying to overturn "Obamacare," but his
predecessor's health care law keeps gaining ground in places where it was once
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump is still trying to overturn
"Obamacare," but his predecessor's health care law keeps gaining ground in
places where it was once unwelcome.
Missouri voters this week approved Medicaid expansion by a 53% to 47%
margin, making the conservative state the seventh to do so under Trump. The
Republican president readily carried Missouri in 2016, but the Medicaid vote
comes as more people have been losing workplace health insurance in a
treacherous coronavirus economy.
That leaves only a dozen states opposed to using the federal-state health
program for low-income people as a vehicle for covering more adults, mainly
people in jobs that don't provide health care. Medicaid expansion is a central
feature of former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, covering about
12 million people, while nearly 10 million others get subsidized private
If present trends continue, it's only a matter of time until all states
expand Medicaid, acknowledged Brian Blase, a former health care adviser in the
Trump White House, who remains opposed to the expansion.
"Medicaid expansion is terrible policy, but it is attractive to states
because it's almost all federal spending and the insurance companies and
hospitals get lots of dollars when a state expands Medicaid," he said.
The federal government pays 90% of the cost of covering people through the
expansion, a much higher matching share than for low-income disabled and
elderly people traditionally covered by Medicaid. Blase argues that's an
incentive to waste federal dollars. Before the ACA most low-income adults
couldn't get Medicaid unless they were caring for children.
"There's lots of political pressure to expand," said Blase. "Eventually all
states are going to expand unless the enhanced (federal) match rate changes."
Voters in another conservative state --- Oklahoma --- approved a Medicaid
expansion earlier this year, although the margin was much closer than in
Missouri. Of the seven states that have expanded Medicaid in the Trump years,
six have done so by referendum, said Rachel Garfield, a senior policy expert
with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
"This is an indication that there is large popular support for providing
health care coverage for low-income people, and it is quite possible that this
support has increased given what's going on with the pandemic," Garfield said.
The six states where voters have approved Medicaid expansion in the Trump
years are Idaho, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah. In Virginia, the
legislature passed a Medicaid expansion after Democrats made political gains.
"That has been an interesting feature of the Trump administration, that
momentum among the states to expand Medicaid has not slowed down," said Jesse
Cross-Call, a policy expert with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,
which advocates for low-income people.
Trump is trying to persuade the Supreme Court to toss out "Obamacare," but
as long as it remains the law his administration has to carry out expansions
that states approve. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden would ask
Congress to provide coverage where states have refused.
In Missouri, support for Medicaid expansion in cities and suburbs overcame
opposition in rural communities. Supporters used the coronavirus pandemic to
highlight the need for health care, especially in the wake of joblessness and
loss of employer-provided insurance. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and
Industry, one of the state's most influential business groups, also pushed for
expansion as a way of helping the economy recover after COVID-19.
Cindy Mann, who ran Medicaid under Obama, argues that there's also a strong
fairness argument for expansion. About 4.5 million poor adults live in states
that have resisted expanding Medicaid. But because of the way the Obama health
law is written, they don't qualify for subsidized private insurance through
marketplaces like HealthCare.gov and they're stuck in a coverage gap.
"Those people have no access to coverage," said Mann, now with the Manatt
Health consultancy. "Those are a lot of the so-called essential workers, if we
think about it through the COVID lens. It's a really inequitable story and one
that increasingly can't be tolerated by the public."
No other state referendum votes on Medicaid expansion are scheduled this
political season. But Mann expects the debate will percolate through
legislative elections in the 12 states, mainly in the South, that have refused.
The biggest prizes are Texas, Florida and Georgia.
"Now they are surrounded by states that have expanded," she said.