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Celebrate! Medicaid turns 55

What helps children, parents, seniors, people with disabilities, and adults with limited income while simultaneously supporting health care workers?

If you guessed Medicaid, kudos! You got it.

Last week marked 55 years of the public health insurance program. On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Social Security Act Amendments, which established Medicare and Medicaid. We at the League and so many across our nation are grateful to celebrate today the longevity of Medicaid and its positive impact on the health of past and present generations.

Medicaid, which is funded jointly by each state and the federal government, ensures income-eligible children, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and those who are pregnant have access to affordable medical care. And, through a provision of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, it also became possible for states to extend Medicaid coverage to income-eligible adults who had previously been unable to access the program.

Today, more than 70 million Americans receive health insurance through Medicaid, approximately half of whom are children. In the Alpena News readership area, a significant percentage of residents use Medicaid or a combination of Medicaid and Medicare. Twenty-five percent of those living in Alpena County, 24.7% of those in Alcona County, 26.2% of Montmorency County residents, and 20% of people in Presque Isle County use Medicaid, according to the American Community Survey.

And, given the economic impact of the coronavirus, some estimate more than 10 million Americans will be newly eligible for Medicaid coverage after losing their employer-sponsored health insurance — yet another reminder of the importance of investing in a sturdy social safety net to protect us when we need it. It’s also important to note that, according to a report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Aug. 4, 5 million Medicaid enrollees are frontline or essential workers.

Thankfully, Medicaid is comprehensive, covering expenses from doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, labs and x-rays, maternity care, and long-term services and supports such as nursing home stays.

Did you know that Medicaid is the main program to cover home- and community-based services? That means millions of seniors and people with disabilities rely on Medicaid to help them remain in their home while receiving the health care they need to thrive.

Medicare, the public health insurance program for seniors, began providing benefits in 1966, about a year after passage. Medicaid, however, was left up to the states to decide on adoption and implementation. While every state ultimately established a Medicaid program, some got started earlier than others.

Michigan implemented its Medicaid program in 1966. Nearly 55 years later, approximately one in every five Michiganders is covered by Medicaid.

In 2014, Michigan chose to expand Medicaid to the newly eligible adult population (thanks again, ACA!) and named that coverage the Healthy Michigan Plan. Since that time, more than 1 million Michigan residents have enrolled, and a recent evaluation of the plan finds those surveyed reported better health and improved financial well-being over time.

Over its 55 years, Medicaid has contributed to state economies and fewer uninsured, allowing more individuals access to quality health care. That’s certainly something to celebrate.

Happy birthday, Medicaid!

Amber Bellazaire is policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy.

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