Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Trying to Make the Math Add Up on Medicaid

One assertion by Mitt Romney in the presidential debate especially caught my attention. He said he would turn Medicaid into a block grant to the states and that they would “get what they got last year, plus inflation, plus 1 percent.” Sounds reasonable — except when you look at Romney’s other pledges, his support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget and what Romney has promised in terms of fiscal restraint overall. 

Here is the first reality from the Ryan budget supported by Romney, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: It would cut Medicaid by $642 billion — or 34 percent — over the next 10 years. This would happen in two ways: repeal of the 2010 health care law and caps on federal spending. The repeal of the 2010 law would keep 11 million people from getting Medicaid coverage. 

If the hard caps in the Ryan budget did not result in near-miraculous reductions in health care inflation and did not result in states ponying up far more money for the program than they now provide (most unlikely), an additional 19 million people would be cut from the Medicaid rolls, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Beyond the up to 30 million people left without insurance is another serious set of problems for society. As I have pointed out before (and as President Barack Obama inexplicably did not during the debate), the single largest component of Medicaid is long-term care for the elderly. The second largest component, which the president did mention, is care for the seriously disabled. 

Cuts in the Medicaid program mean more than just the tens of millions thrown off the program. For those continuing on, it is almost inevitable, as the Congressional Budget Office pointed out, that there would be reduced coverage and care. Of course, states could pay more to make up the difference — but does anyone seriously think that states will be willing to take more money from education or raise taxes to do so in a meaningful way? 

And while many states will be motivated to do so, Romney’s other policy promises or predilections — including a private but overheard willingness to cut out the deduction for state and local taxes and a willingness, expressed by Romney’s top tax advisers, to cut out the deduction for state and local bonds, raising their interest costs dramatically — would make the states’ ability to raise money much harder.

To be sure, there would be, as there are now, serious efforts at policy innovation, including more incentives for home care of those in nursing homes. But if we consider the ever-growing number of elderly who will be disabled or require institutional care as the population ages and people live longer, there will still be enormous strains on nursing homes. For especially difficult cases of mental and physical disabilities, home health care is simply not going to be an option for the middle-class or poor families of these elderly people — they do not have the room, the resources, the expertise and, in many cases, the inclination to do so. 

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