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Happy birthday, Medicaid

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 8/7/2017, 6:29 a.m.
“It was a generation ago that Harry Truman said, and I quote him: ‘Millions of our citizens do not now ...

Children’s Defense Fund

“It was a generation ago that Harry Truman said, and I quote him: ‘Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. And the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection.’ ... The need for this action is plain; and it is so clear indeed that we marvel not simply at the passage of this bill, but what we marvel at is that it took so many years to pass it.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson said this July 30, 1965, as he signed the bipartisan legislation that established the federal Medicaid program and thanked former President Harry S. Truman and the members of Congress from both parties who had laid the groundwork and worked tirelessly over many years to make the Medicaid program and its protections reality. For more than a half century, Medicaid has been a shining example of the good and essential support government can provide those most in need across all ages. Over the years, we have been striving to live up to the promise of ensuring all youth a chance to reach healthy adulthood.

Today, nearly everyone in America has a family member, neighbor, coworker or classmate who has benefited from Medicaid’s critical protections. Medicaid offers health coverage to 80 million people. With the help of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act, 95 percent of all children today have health coverage. So, all of us have millions of reasons to celebrate Medicaid’s birthday. And we can celebrate, at least for now, a rejection of the cruel, relentless and frantic effort to end Medicaid, threatening tens of millions of families terrified by an uncertain future and the loss of life giving care.

Medicaid is a lean, efficient and essential safety net program that allows millions to be healthy and productive members of society. Medicaid is the largest health insurer for our nation’s children, providing affordable, comprehensive health coverage to almost 37 million low-income children. Forty-three percent of all Medicaid enrollees are children; Medicaid serves 40 percent of children with special health care needs. It also covers more than 40 percent of all births in the U.S. and serves millions of low-income pregnant women, adults with disabilities, and the elderly. Medicaid helps two of three seniors in nursing homes.

Medicaid is a foundational part of our nation’s health insurance.

• Today, all states provide Medicaid coverage to children under 19 with family incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($33,534 for a family of four in 2016). Some states cover children up to 21 or with higher incomes.

• Medicaid is a valuable source of preventive services helping children get the well-child visits and screenings they need to support healthy development and prevent expensive health complications later.

• Medicaid is a lifeline for children with disabilities and their families. For some families with disabled children, Medicaid is often the only viable source of financing extensive and expensive health care. Medicaid also supplements private coverage to allow children access to specialized medical equipment and devices such as hearing aids and wheelchairs. It also allows children and adults with serious disabilities to be treated at home and in their own communities rather than being sent off to more costly institutional settings.