Friday, April 14, 2017

Business interests weigh in on behalf of Medicaid expansion

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Medicaid, a 52-year-old program that seems to be in line for big changes from elected officials who question its cost, is getting some help from a seemingly unlikely source: business interests.

"Medicaid works" is the message of the Modern Medicaid Alliance, a national group that comprises mainly health advocacy organizations but also includes the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers. That may sound like Big Business, but many Kentucky manufacturers are small and don't provide health insurance for their employees, many of whom are eligible for the expanded form of Medicaid that took effect in 2014.

“Medicaid plays an important role in providing for the health of the local workforce and their families,” KAM President Greg Higdon said in a press release. “Programs like Medicaid are essential to ensuring that Kentucky residents are well and able to pursue employment and contribute to our state’s growth and productivity.”

The alliance is starting a Kentucky campaign that includes "organizing of Medicaid supporters, beneficiaries, and Modern Medicaid Alliance partners who will make the case to elected officials at all levels that Medicaid works," the release says. It also includes a digital advertising campaign and stories "of beneficiaries whose lives have been improved by Medicaid."

“Medicaid is essential to ensuring access to health care for Kentuckians who are economically vulnerable,” Jason D. Hall, Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said in the release. “Pregnant women, children, the elderly, and the economically displaced receive essential health care services because of Medicaid. When people have health coverage, they utilize preventive services more and the emergency room less. Morally and fiscally, Medicaid is an essential program."

Under federal health reform in 2014, Kentucky expanded Medicaid to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, adding about 440,000 to the program's rolls and bringing the total number of beneficiaries to 1.3 million. The federal government paid for the expansion through 2016; now the state pays 5 percent, rising in annual steps to the current law's limit of 10 percent in 2020.

Gov. Matt Bevin says the state can't afford that, and has asked the federal government to let the state impose rules such as work requirements and small, income-based premiums on beneficiaries. The Trump administration is expected to approve the changes and use them as an example for other states. The state estimates that the changes will leave the program in five years with 85,000 fewer people than it would have without the changes.

In Congress, much of the debate about health care has focused on Medicaid. "While political debates and policy discussions about health reform continue in Kentucky, the Modern Medicaid Alliance will educate policymakers and the public about the high-value care Medicaid delivers, Medicaid’s innovative solutions that are saving taxpayer dollars and increasing coverage, and the need for Medicaid to remain a strong safety net for the people of Kentucky," the release says.

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