How a Heated National Policy Debate Benefited Medicaid's Future
Eight months of political wrangling over whether or not to repeal the Affordable Care Act may has had an unexpected positive effect on the future of Medicaid, according to former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) chief Andy Slavitt.
Speaking at the University of Pennsylvania 2017 Health Insurance Exchange Conference, Slavitt said town hall meetings and media coverage during the period exposed mainstream voters to a fact they hadn't previously fully understood: far from being just a health care system for poor people, Medicaid actually provides a large population of middle class consumers with critical health care-related services they couldn't otherwise afford.
The annual HIX Conference is a two-day affair that draws top academic, government and insurance industry experts together to discuss the latest developments of the state-based insurance marketplaces or "exchanges" created by the Affordable Care Act.
Medicaid and the middle class
In a "Fireside Chat" discussion with former Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario, Slavitt said in his own travels to town meetings he found that many of those in the audience were surprised to learn how extensively Medicaid benefits extend into middle class families or that services they knew by names such as "Aloha Care" or "Mountaineer Care," were actually Medicaid programs.
When asked, many of the meeting attendees initially said no one in their neighborhood and social circles was on Medicaid. "Then you'd asked them if anyone on their block had a disability and they'd say, 'Yeah, our neighbor across the street has a son in a wheelchair but they're a middle class family and not on Medicaid.' But, of course, they were on Medicaid. I would ask 'How to you think that mother gets to take a shower? How do you think the kids gets to go to restaurants? And how do you think the mother gets to go to work?' Well, that's what Medicaid does."
He said the dialogue this fostered on a national level was responsible for growing number of people saying "no, no, no. We're not using Medicaid as a piggy bank to do a tax cut or some other purpose."
'See themselves in the picture'
"I would not have predicted that the country in that regard would begin to understand these things (so quickly)," Savitt said. "It turns out that people understand better when they can see themselves in the picture and that's the reason there has to be more story telling and listening to peoples' health care experiences at all levels."
"Everybody's got a complaint about the health care system," Savitt continued, "we've all heard them all, and listening to that and connecting to that is very, very important at the same time it's a challenge. But I find that if you put away all the politics and start talking to people in the real world about real issues, there's so much more commonality."