By Jennifer Ng’andu, Director, Health and Civil Rights Policy Project, NCLR
With Congress knee-deep in efforts to reach a deal that will avert the fiscal cliff, decision-makers are eyeing health care as a place to cut overall costs. That’s fair. Health care spending is the gargantuan elephant in the room (you know, 17.9% of GDP, which is more than the entire economy of France and most other countries). But in most of the recent discussions about saving money in health care, budget negotiators are focusing on quick fixes that help reach a magic number of cuts instead of making efficient changes that lower long-term spending, often without regard to how the cuts affect people. This is a dangerous move that could put vulnerable communities—particularly working Latinos and their families—at risk. And it could be the undoing of one of the most critical health care programs in America.
Medicaid is a health insurance lifeline for those without any other options for accessing affordable care. For Latinos, who more often than not are denied offers of health insurance in the workplace, the role of the program is even more substantial. In 2011, 14.5 million Latinos were covered through the program. That’s more than one in four (27.6%) in the community. In the same year, the program served as an even more critical resource for our children. More than half (51.4%) of Latino children under 18 were on Medicaid or its sister program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The very last time Medicaid hit the chopping block, hundreds of Latinos wrote in to NCLR overnight to share how the program was making a difference in their lives every day. Rigo from California’s testimonial was one that could be shared by many Latino families:
As the parent of two special needs teenage children since birth, and with no medical insurance from my employer, it is extremely important for us to keep our Medicaid insurance intact. My family, and thousands of other families throughout this nation, cannot afford to lose our Medicaid coverage for our children.
The impact on Medicaid will be even more significant in the future. The Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act ensures that states will be able to offer a new Medicaid option in 2014 that helps many who are currently uninsured access this program. Half of the six million Latinos expected to gain coverage will get it through Medicaid, but only if states choose to do so. The outcomes of the budget conversation could have great influence on states’ willingness to expand the program.
Those who wish to cut Medicaid will hide the consequences through proposals laced with jargon like the per capita cap, block grants, and the blended rate. So sexy sounding, aren’t they? Negotiators will call it “slowing spending,” but all that really refers to is a Medicaid budget that shifts the costs of health care to the states, increasing out-of-pocket expenses for those who can least afford it: working Latino families. These proposals do nothing to fix America’s budget problem or make changes in health care that really solve our fiscal challenges.
This is the wrong approach for Latinos. As a community, Latinos rank the economy as their first concern and know deficit talks are deeply linked to the well-being of their families. But they’ve rejected solutions that make blanket cuts to programs and instead want a strategy that continues to invest in programs that secure their position in the middle class while ensuring a fair tax system.
National leaders must be balanced in deficit reduction and must do so with accountability to the millions of Americans whose will be affected by these decisions. That means protecting Medicaid and other programs that are an indispensable resource for those who rely on it for their health and financial stability.