By Ann Hedges
This month, Medicaid turns 50. President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark legislation into law July 30, 1965. Since its inception, Medicaid has provided health coverage to some of Georgia’s most vulnerable residents. Low-income seniors and people with disabilities get stable access to health care services through the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program. Pregnant women obtain vital pre- and post-natal care for themselves and their newborn. Children can access preventive care essential to their development through the state’s low-income programs and PeachCare for Kids.
As we celebrate this important safety net program for Georgians in need, let’s look at few of its successes.
Supporting Georgia’s Children
More than one million children are covered by Georgia’s Medicaid program, or about three of every seven children in the state. Any parent knows how important it is to take their child to the doctor to treat common childhood maladies like strep throat, pink eye or broken bones. Medicaid provides parents and kids affordable doctor visits and peace of mind to care for these common illnesses and injuries, in addition to preventive services like vaccines and check-ups.
Lasting benefits accrue beyond those gained from a visit to the doctor’s office. Increasing Medicaid eligibility for children produces positive educational outcomes on par with direct education reforms like reducing class sizes. Those educational gains are linked to higher earnings as that child enters adulthood and becomes a contributing member of Georgia’s workforce.
Dependable and Consistent Federal Support
Medicaid is a partnership between the states and federal government. Each state enjoys flexibility managing its program in accordance with national guidelines. In exchange, the federal government covers about 57 percent of the costs nationally. That percentage is consistently higher in Georgia, averaging 64 percent since the program started. The federal share is now even higher for Georgia. For every dollar Georgia spends on Medicaid benefits, the federal government chips in an additional $2.03.
The significant federal funding allows Medicaid to support Georgians during difficult economic times. It is a countercyclical program, meaning it grows to meet the need when the economy is bad and residents face job loss or economic hardship. On several occasions, leaders at the federal level increased federal Medicaid contributions to help states manage enrollment growth even when states experience declining revenues.
This countercyclical aspect proved critical for many Georgia families at the height of the Great Recession when the state’s unemployment rate remained over 10 percent for more than two years and unemployment peaked at more than 500,000 people. Between the start of the recession in 2007 and the depth of its impact in 2010, 150,000 more low-income Georgians gained coverage through Medicaid. The majority of those enrollees were children.
Not only does Medicaid provide access to critical health care services, it also does it more efficiently than private insurers do. Ninety-four cents of every dollar spent on Medicaid goes directly to health services. Medicaid also spends less per enrollee than private insurers for both children and adults. Medicaid’s costs increased at about one-fourth the rate of private insurance since 2007.
Medicaid earned a well-documented reputation over the years for helping some of Georgia’s most vulnerable people access necessary health care services. In the ever-changing health care and economic landscape it offers a stable source of care for people in need while delivering critical financial resources that ripple through Georgia’s health care system. Georgia’s leaders can find ways to build upon the past successes of Medicaid in ways that can also help Georgians who remain uninsured get better access to health care.
Ann Hedges is a GBPI summer intern who is studying health policy at Brandeis University.