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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The untold success story in the Obamacare rollout is that the working poor are enrolling in Medicaid.

Sadly, the media have largely chosen to ignore this fact. Positive statistics are crowded out by incessant Republican distracters who prefer obsessing over glitches on the website than highlighting the thousands of families already benefiting from the safety and security that come with finally having medical insurance.

The Obama administration is not blameless here. Until only recently, the White House and congressional Democrats had silently acquiesced to the media meme that somehow, enrolling young healthy people in the private insurance exchanges was more important than expanding government health services for those in poverty.

The rationale, of course, was that those younger Americans would pay premiums that are cost-effective and contribute to lower insurance rates overall by bringing more people into the insurance market, which is true. But there are two problems with that narrative: First, it ignores the fact that many of those same healthy young Americans are working in minimum-wage jobs, and so they qualify for Medicaid. Second, it implies a hierarchy of sorts—in which those who can pay for private insurance are more worthy of the benefits attached to the Affordable Care Act.

Not so. Those who qualify for Medicaid deserve it and should not be shamed for needing it.

The president himself finally acknowledged the disparity in the underreporting of the success of the Medicaid expansion during a press conference on Thursday, when he explained that in the first month alone, 396,261 Americans qualified for Medicaid benefits. This was in contrast with the 106,185 people who have enrolled in a marketplace private insurance plan.

“That’s been less reported on, but it shouldn’t be,” said the president. “Americans who are having a difficult time, who are poor—many of them working—may have a disability. They’re Americans like everybody else.”

Noting that those who have already qualified for Medicaid are poor but also working, Obama highlighted a fact often lost on Republicans, who have consistently marginalized the poor, portraying them as unworthy leeches on society. The GOP and their operatives have created a separate and unequal perception of Medicaid beneficiaries. But why should the poor be shamed for needing Medicaid? Especially when they are hardworking, taxpaying citizens?

Beginning with Nixon’s Southern strategy—which was perfected by Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” analogies in the 1980s—the GOP has cruelly crafted an image of poor people—black and brown in particular—who are living high off the government teat. It’s a false narrative of someone receiving Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance and who therefore has no incentive to work.