Medicaid: Strengthening Our Health Care Safety Net
Today, Democratic leaders gathered to discuss a crucial public health issue, strengthening our health care safety net at the same time as the future of the Medicaid program hangs in the balance. New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, convened Democratic leaders from the House and the Senate as well as Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan to urge the budget conferees to stand up and protect the critically important Medicaid program. They were joined by Peter Thomas, Co-Chair of the Health Task Force for the Consortium for People with Disabilities; Phyllis Craig, a Brewer, Maine resident whose brother has Alzheimer’s and benefits from Medicaid; Fran Kuhns of Brookville, Pennsylvania, CEO of Senior Services at the Dr. Arthur Clifton McKinley Center and Dr. Michal Ann Young, President, DC Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In February, President Bush unveiled his fiscal year 2006 budget proposal containing a devastating $60 billion cut to Medicaid over the next decade and Senate and House budget conferees are currently negotiating how deep the cuts to Medicaid may be. A majority of the Senate has already rejected reducing funding by voting to strip the Budget Resolution of any Medicaid cuts. Similarly, a majority of the House of Representatives opposes cutting the program, as demonstrated by solid Democratic opposition to cuts combined with last week’s letter signed by 44 Republican Members of Congress, urging the Chairmen Gregg and Nussle to remove Medicaid reductions from the Budget Resolution. The conferees now need to reconcile the Senate bill which had restored Medicaid funding with the House bill which includes a $20 billion cut to the program.
“We all agree that Medicaid must be strengthened, but slashing funding does nothing to address Medicaid’s challenges. It is unconscionable and ultimately counterproductive to try to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans,” said Senator Clinton. “We will fight to prevent these cuts and start laying the groundwork for real reform.”
Medicaid is a crucial safety net for more than 50 million children, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. As our nation’s health care system faces the challenges of rapidly increasing costs and a growing number of uninsured Americans, Medicaid is critical to ensuring that our most vulnerable citizens get the care they need. Changes to Medicaid can simply not be guided by arbitrary goals for savings and reconciliation targets.
“The federal government must resist cutting Medicaid,” said Governor Granholm. “You should not shift costs to the states as part of budget-deficit reduction and states should not be forced by the federal government to choose between funding programs for grandparents versus grandchildren.”
Senator John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia said, “Today’s gathering of elected officials, health care providers, and Medicaid recipients underscores the vital role of Medicaid in our health care system. Medicaid provides a federal guarantee of health insurance coverage for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens — our children, our low-income working families, our elderly, and our disabled. Medicaid is also the foundation of our health care infrastructure through its support of hospitals, doctors, community health centers, and nursing homes in every state throughout the country. The bottom line is that we should strengthen, not weaken, Medicaid.”
“I am deeply concerned about the proposed cuts to the Medicaid program,” Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) said. “The program is a lifeline to more than 50 million recipients, particularly seniors and people with disabilities. Bringing together government officials, providers, and beneficiaries to this Medicaid forum highlights the program’s importance to our nation’s health care system. As the budget conference convenes, I will do everything in my power to ensure Medicaid will be protected in the final budget.”
The Members of Congress, Governor Granholm and leaders from the community discussed the impact of the proposed cuts on Medicaid recipients, states and providers. They also discussed the ways that Congress could work in a bipartisan way to find solutions to making Medicaid more cost efficient without slashing its funding.
“Medicaid suffers not so much from ‘inefficiency’ or ‘rigidity’ but from rising health care and prescription drug costs, increased enrollment due to declining employer-sponsored coverage, rising numbers of uninsured due to the Nation’s economic woes, and an aging society,” said Congressman John D. Dingell, Ranking Member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. “Rather than cut the program, we should shore it up. If we do not, states will have no choice but to raise taxes or cut coverage to some of the most vulnerable in our society.”