by Brigette Courtot, Policy Analyst,
National Women's Law Center
The need for Medicaid—the federal-state health insurance program for low-income people—is greater than ever right now as families continue to struggle with unemployment, income loss, and the consequent loss of their health insurance.
Families who have never had to rely on public health insurance before are depending on Medicaid for access to the health care they need—this critical program could mean the difference between getting a cancer screening or skipping it; from filling a prescription for heart disease medication or going without; or from heading to the doctor when flu symptoms arise or trying to make do with home remedies.
But with states struggling to balance their budgets in the face of severe revenue shortfalls, Medicaid programs are on the chopping block. While the new health reform law stipulates that states cannot reduce their eligibility levels for Medicaid, there are other harmful cuts that cash-strapped states can make—they can reduce benefits, pay Medicaid providers less, or increase cost-sharing for the families enrolled in the program.
Cuts to Medicaid—no matter their nature—have a disproportionate impact on women, who account for nearly 75 percent of Medicaid's adult beneficiaries. Because women are poorer on average than men, and are also more likely to meet the program's stringent eligibility criteria—such as being pregnant or having dependent children—they account. [Side note: I’m happy to report that the days of the "stringent eligibility criteria" are numbered! The new health reform law extends Medicaid to all people under a certain income level in 2014, regardless of whether they meet other criteria.]
So, what's the solution? Congress must extend the emergency Medicaid funding provided to states in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the "stimulus bill"). States are in desperate need of this assistance—roughly half of them are already relying on this increased funding in their FY11 state budgets. States need the relief, and women and their families need Medicaid. To keep Medicaid as strong as possible and to prevent adverse effects for women's health, contact your Representative now and demand swift action to help states.
And to learn more about why Medicaid is so important for women, check out NWLC's "Women and Medicaid" fact sheets filled with national and state-specific information on the program.