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Natalie Camastra, Policy Intern, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

From the desk of ... Natalie Camastra, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Why Now is the Time to Support, Not Undermine, Medicaid

November 17, 2011 | Health Care
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The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), as the only national organization advocating for reproductive justice and health for millions of Latinas, their families and their communities, strongly urges the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or "Supercommittee" to reexamine their logic when considering cuts or reforms to Medicaid in order to achieve deficit reduction. In this time of economic recession, high rates of uninsurance, and disturbingly high levels of poverty, especially for Latinas, NLIRH argues we must reaffirm our commitment to the health of the nation's most vulnerable, not inhibit Medicaid's ability to serve these groups. Cuts will only serve to decrease the positive economic impact Medicaid has in our states and potentially raise health care costs by shifting towards disease treatment and emergency room costs: both consequences have a real human toll that the Supercommittee must take into account as the November 23 deadline approaches.

Medicaid is a lifeline for Latinas, their families and their communities. Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more than one-in-four Latinos, and one-in-two Latino children, depend on Medicaid or CHIP - Medicaid's Children's Health Insurance Program - for their health insurance.

One of the ways in which Medicaid supports Latina health is through its economic support of community health centers (CHCs,) which provide care regardless of one's ability to pay. About 36% of community health centers patients rely on Medicaid to pay for their services and about 35% of CHC patients are Latino. CHCs are also an especially important lifeline for Latina immigrants, who do not qualify for Medicaid because of the five-year disqualification period for lawful permanent residents. In 2009, CHCs treated 865,000 migrant and seasonal farm workers, many of whom were Latinas. Although not one in the same, Medicaid supports the viability of community health centers to provide key services to Latinas, especially recent immigrants.

Many of the proposals submitted for Supercommittee consideration involve some form of cuts or reforms to Medicaid. Most reforms would have the impact of shifting costs to already-cash strapped states to pay for their Medicaid programs. These states, already struggling with their own budget woes, would most likely cut reimbursements to providers, disincentivize service providers' participation in Medicaid, and therefore reduce services and contribute to worse health outcomes for the poor, disabled, and pregnant women.

While highlighting Medicaid's positive impact for our communities should be reason enough to protect Medicaid, we recognize the importance of debunking the idea that cutting or shifting Medicaid costs to states will lead to deficit reduction. Here are ways in which this thinking is incorrect:

  • Medicaid is especially necessary during a recession, let alone the greatest recession since the Great Depression. In recent years, not only has private health insurance been out of reach for the unemployed and underemployed, but many have fallen into the poverty bracket that qualifies them for Medicaid.
    • Medicaid works counter-cyclically from the economy. During times of economic recession, Medicaid enrollment and spending increases.
    • In the year between 2009 and 2010, while unfortunately one million more Latinos fell into poverty, the uninsurance rate went slightly down during that year because more Latinos became covered through Medicaid.
  • Medicaid directly stimulates the economies of statesby putting doctors and our health care system to work.
    • Medicaid directs federal dollars into state economies, employs health sector professionals, which sets off the economic multiplier effect, and increases state tax revenues. Community health centers have an economic impact of $12.6 billion in their local communities and by 2015, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, community health centers could add nearly 300,000 jobs and generate $54 billion in total economic activity.
  • Medicaid gives access to preventive services for our nation's most vulnerable populations, which helps decrease the need for costly health care, such as disease treatment and emergency room visits.
    • Over five years, community health centers could save our health care system $122 billion dollars by providing primary and preventive care.
  • Medicaid is an economically efficient program.
    • The high cost of medical care has been driving up the cost of health insurance. Over the past ten years, Medicaid has been containing the cost of medical care better than the private health insurance market has.
  • Medicaid is designed to help our nation's most vulnerable.
    • The human toll of proposed Medicaid reforms can be very high. We urge our Congressional leaders to not place the burden of our federal budget woes on the backs of our nation's most poor.

The reality is that the Great Recession has hit the Latino community especially hard and the health care uninsurance rate for Latinas continues to be higher than for other groups. At this time of economic difficulty, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health continues to advocate a standard of care that will respect the dignity of Latina women. We recognize that protecting the Medicaid program is an essential part of that mission.

This blog post is cross-posted from the National Latina Institute on Reproductive Health's blog.

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