Medicaid BirthdayPublic Policy Advocacy

Happy Birthday, Medicaid!

By: Emily Boushee and Jane Baird

Our nation’s Medicaid program has reached an important milestone. It just turned 56 years old! Medicaid continues to need our support to ensure children and families have the best opportunity to thrive.

Medicaid Then and Now

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a bill creating the nation’s Medicare and Medicaid programs. Throughout Medicaid’s 56-year history, there have been numerous changes made to the program by Congress, the states, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), but at its core, the Medicaid program has remained a valuable lifeline for children and families in need of health insurance coverage. In 1997, amid concerns that 10 million children across the country did not have health insurance, President Bill Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act, which created the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Medicaid and CHIP work together to provide health coverage for children whose families cannot access insurance or cannot afford the insurance that is offered to them.  

In Connecticut, the Department of Social Services runs Medicaid and CHIP, which we collectively call the HUSKY Program. Many people are surprised to hear that HUSKY covers more than one-third of children in our State. Another surprising fact is that many children who rely on Medicaid or CHIP have at least one working parent. In a 2019 study published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers from PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that 20% of children in all working families rely on Medicaid, including 40% of children in moderate income families (a family of four earning $40,000 to $60,000 per year) and 80% of children with one parent employed at a small business. Research also shows that Medicaid is a good investment in our future.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, children covered by Medicaid during childhood tend to have better health as adults, are more likely to graduate from high school and college, and have higher wages and pay more in taxes as adults. 

President Lyndon Johnson signing Medicaid into law in 1965.

Connecticut Children’s Families Rely on Medicaid

At Connecticut Children’s, we believe that all children should be able to access high quality and affordable healthcare, regardless of where they live, how much their caregivers earn, or the source of their insurance coverage. Over half of our patients rely on HUSKY for their healthcare coverage. Last year alone, Connecticut Children’s cared for more than 99,000 children who rely on HUSKY including 62% of the babies who received care in one of our Neonatal Intensive Care Units.  

It is critical that our state and federal leaders continue to support a strong and fully-funded Medicaid and CHIP program so that infants and children in Connecticut can get the care they need when they need it and in a manner that is affordable and accessible to their families. Simply making sure that the Medicaid program is adequately funded, however, is not enough.

The Critical Importance of Medicaid Going Forward

Children and families in Connecticut deserve a Medicaid program that is innovative, value-based, and broadly considers the many factors that contribute to a child’s overall health and well-being. That means a program that supports preventative care and takes into account the many social factors (often referred to as the social determinants of health) that impact a child’s health – such as housing, access to healthy foods, and neighborhoods that are clean and safe. Recently, Connecticut legislators passed into law a bill that provides reimbursement for violence prevention services in hospitals. This is a positive step and we urge state leaders to continue adapting the Medicaid program so it meets the needs of kids and families across our state. 

It is an unfortunate reality that Medicaid pays healthcare providers only a fraction of what it costs to care for a child. This year, Connecticut Children’s expects to receive 51 cents for every dollar spent on care for children who rely on Medicaid. Why is this so challenging? Investing in the best trained providers, equipment, and cutting-edge pediatric research takes resources. Inadequate reimbursement diminishes opportunities to invest in those key areas, and this shortcoming affects the care that all children receive, regardless of the source of their insurance coverage.

Looking toward the future, it is important that patients, providers, and advocates continue educating and sharing with lawmakers the critical importance of Medicaid. Without it, millions of children nationwide would be without health insurance and less likely receive the care they need to grow, learn and succeed. Medicaid’s anniversary allows us a chance to reflect on how important the program is for our patients and families while still acknowledging that much work remains to be done so that all children can access the right care, at the right time.

Happy birthday, Medicaid!

Read additional articles on the Advancing Kids blog related to public policy advocacy.

Emily Boushee is a government relations associate at Connecticut Children’s.

Jane Baird is the senior director of external relations at Connecticut Children’s.

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