The Value(s) of Medicaid: 47 Years Later

July 30th marked the 47th anniversary of Medicaid and Medicare. It’s hard to imagine that 47 years ago, these critical programs that we have grown to love and rely on, were controversial sticking points that were hotly contested for years prior to being passed through the legislature- similar to the Affordable Care Act; passed only 2 years ago. What is the commonality between these programs? They reach communities that are left behind by the money-driven health care system that has [dominated] our country. We are seeing first hand which members of Congress and Governors will come to bat for these communities when their very lives are at stake.

Medicaid, like the other public health programs, has improved access to health care for millions- over 40 million to be more specific. These 40 million people are some of our most vulnerable and valuable, such as children, seniors, and the disabled. As well as essential community members that we all rely upon, which are often grossly under-paid.

Those most impacted by proposed cuts to Medicaid and the ACA are the communities that already have disparate health outcomes – communities of color. Already our communities are living sicker and dying younger. Without Medicaid, which is a critical source of coverage for people of color, disparities would be even worse than they are now. This represents a pressing public health and racial justice issue in the U.S.

Not only is Medicaid a health coverage program, it also is an economic engine. Medicaid means jobs and county revenues. Medicaid spending supports health care industry jobs and directly purchases goods and services. This in turn creates a ripple effect throughout the economy with far reaching consequences for our communities. Medicaid contributions are particularly important in rural communities, which face even more severe strains without the boost Medicaid provides.

Nonetheless, the Republican budget passed earlier this year dismantles Medicaid under the guise of “cost savings.” Cuts in federal funding to Medicaid and Medicare like the ones proposed by House Republicans in this year’s budget don’t reduce the cost of healthcare. Instead, they just shift the cost from the federal government to financially strained States and families that simply can not afford them. Adding insult to injury, Republicans supported these damaging cuts at the same time and in the same budget that they also passed a huge new tax break for the rich.

We do not need to over-complicate this issue. We don’t need more polling. We don’t need to try to make this a “middle class issue” to make it more palatable. We simply need to ask ourselves about what and who we value in this country. Should the government be making and passing legislation for millionaires and corporations, or regular people who’s needs are overlooked in a system that doesn’t work for them? Pressuring, exposing and holding accountable lawmakers with rotten values that support racist and classist systems is essential.

This week, Alliance affiliates and partners did just that. All over this country we are calling out members of Congress that are voting against our values and instead supporting the interests of corporations. Community organizations are confronting Members with actions in over 15 states, demanding that they chose a side, and that it be the side of the people.

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