Medicaid: Obamacare’s Untold Success Story

The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion is helping to ensure that those who need coverage get it.

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According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, there were 47 million Americans without health insurance coverage in 2012. Sixty-one percent of adults said that the main reason they were uninsured was that the cost was too high or they had lost their job. Many were self-employed or worked for small firms that are less likely to offer health benefits. Low-wage workers were sometimes offered coverage, but the premiums were too costly, given their low wages. More than 60 percent of uninsured Americans had at least one full-time worker in the home, and 16 percent had a part-time worker in the home.

Medicaid has become a necessity for an increasing number of Americans, as essential as Social Security and Medicare for the elderly.

Kentucky, led by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, is largely white and extremely poor. It has also become the poster child for the successful Medicaid expansion, despite being a Southern “red” state. Beshear’s team has managed to enroll more than 33,561 of the state’s 636,000 uninsured in Medicaid in the first few weeks of the ACA open enrollment. And that is only the beginning.

Gwenda Bond, Beshear’s assistant communications director, told The Root, “There is so much heated rhetoric about the Medicaid expansion in the political arena, but I think the average person believes it’s a good thing. We have about one-fourth of our population on Medicaid already, and I don’t think anyone would not want those people to have health care.”

Bond continued, “The vast majority of people who qualify for Medicaid are not on welfare—they are working. And it’s why the Medicaid expansion was a part of the original design of the ACA. These are people who don’t make enough money to afford insurance in the private market—even with a subsidy. And we have a moral responsibility to cover them. These are our neighbors and friends—not people who are living off the system.”

Many of the states that have refused the Medicaid expansion are the poorest and most Republican, including Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia—all of which have uninsured rates that are among the highest in the country.

The 2012 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the ACA’s individual mandate also permitted states to refuse to expand Medicaid, and Republicans have used this as a tool to subvert and obstruct President Obama’s efforts to successfully implement the ACA—as well as to continue their proverbial war on the poor.

These tactics leave the GOP out of sync with the broader electorate. A record 49.7 million Americans were poor in 2012, and this was alongside more than 97.3 million who are considered low income. That means nearly half of the entire U.S. population—roughly 148 million people—may need Medicaid coverage or subsidies. And yes, they’re not only our neighbors, friends and family—in many cases they’re ourselves.

By shaming those living in poverty, Republicans betray the nation’s foundational principles. It’s time to applaud the fact that Obamacare is boldly embracing the need to protect and serve the poor.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.