Medicaid, the government-sponsored health program for low-income Americans, provides health coverage for 60 million people — including children and the elderly. It also covers people with major disabilities and is the largest payer of nursing home and long-term care.
“We cannot look at Medicaid just as a safety net. It is truly the only option for many Americans, especially communities of color,” says Jennifer Ng’andu, deputy director at the National Council of La Raza, the largest U.S. organization for Latino civil rights and advocacy.
The report highlights the true impact for both the African-American and Latino communities.
One in five African-Americans living with cancer receive their medical care under the Medicaid program. One in four with diabetes, one in five with heart disease or stroke, and one in three with lung diseases like asthma — almost 2 million people — rely on Medicaid coverage.
The Latino community is equally affected. One in four Latinos with cancer, one in four with diabetes, one in four with heart disease or stroke and two of five with lung disease utilize Medicaid for their care.
Karen from Arizona told Families USA: “I am 59 years old and was laid off 3 years ago. I have Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [like emphysema], painful back problems, and high blood pressure. By kicking me off Arizona’s Medicaid Program this is a death sentence. I have no income. How will I get the medications that are keeping me alive?”
Her story and many others fill National Council of La Raza’s webpage that asks people to finish the sentence, “Medicaid is meaningful to me because…”
With this in mind, health care advocates worry that cutting costs means increasing costs for Medicaid’s low-income patients, not true savings.
“It’s not that you’re cutting health care costs, you’re shifting costs,” says Ron Pollack, executive Director of Families USA, a non-profit consumer health-care advocacy organization.
He explains how cutting federal money for Medicaid means that each state is left to figure out how to fund their state Medicaid programs on their own.
“Which means ultimately the shift goes to families, and it’s communities of color that bear that burden.” Pollack says. “We end up having to deal with the deficit on the shoulder of the people who are least possible to bear that load.”
Some states have already begun making Medicaid recipients pay premiums and co-payments for their care. When one state reportedly increased out-of-pocket costs, it became unaffordable, and one-third of the enrolled adults lost their Medicaid coverage entirely, including prescription drug coverage.
This $41 billion in cuts raises questions at a time when the government plans to expand health coverage to an estimated 32 million more uninsured people under the new health care restructuring.
Medicaid already limits which doctors patients can see, and Dr. Cedric Bright warns that that number will decrease even more by 2014 once cuts are made to already low physician payments.
“It’s like having access to credit cards with no place to shop,” says Bright, who is president of the National Medical Association, an organization which represents the interests of both physicians and patients of African descent.