Medicaid enrollments soar to new high
WASHINGTON — A record number of Americans signed up for Medicaid last year, as the recession wiped out jobs and workplace health coverage.
Enrollment in the safety-net medical insurance program jumped to more than 48 million — a record 15.7 percent share of the US population, according to a report released yesterday by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. With the economy barely improving, states are forecasting a 6 percent increase in the rolls next year, further straining their depleted budgets.
The Medicaid numbers are the latest piece to emerge in a grim statistical picture of the recession’s toll. The ranks of the working-age poor last year climbed to the highest level since the 1960s, according to a recent US Census report. Nearly 12 million households received food stamps, a record.
Rising Medicaid enrollment also underscores the growing role of the government in health care, a polarizing issue in the upcoming midterm congressional elections after President Obama and Democrats pushed through a massive overhaul of the health care system.
Since the start of the recession in December 2007, nearly 6 million people have signed up for Medicaid, according to Kaiser. That period includes the biggest 12-month increase since the program’s early days: 3.7 million new enrollees from December 2008 to December 2009.
“There seems to be no end in sight to the fiscal pressure on the Medicaid program,’’ said Vernon Smith, who co-wrote the Kaiser report.
Starting in the fall of 2008, the federal government provided more than $100 billion in additional Medicaid funding to help states cover growing numbers of people in need.
The last of that money will run out next June, and states will face a jump of 25 percent or more in their share of costs, although they are still likely to be financially strapped.
With or without Obama’s overhaul, government is becoming the dominant player in health care. Federal, state, and local government spending will overtake private sources next year, three years before the new law’s major coverage expansion, Medicare economists said in a recent report.
Medicaid is a federal-state partnership created with Medicare in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson. It covers low-income families and many elderly in nursing homes, with Washington paying about 60 percent of the cost on average.
Medicaid has also been assigned a major role under the new health care law, which expands the program to cover an estimated 18 million additional low-income adults starting in 2014.