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Written by Christopher Plein, Ph.D. West Virginia University and OneOp Military Caregiving Team Member

Summer should be a time for beach or other vacation reading.  Some of my favorite reads are histories and biographies, with a couple of mysteries thrown in.  But for those of us involved or interested in healthcare policy and programs – and their effect on military families and communities – we need to keep up on current affairs.  In this blog, I am going to offer a few quick reads to help you get a sense of what might be happening to one of the most important features in the healthcare landscape. I am talking of course about Medicaid.  Much of what I am offering here is a follow-up to a webinar that our OneOp Caregiving team offered just this week – Medicaid: Taking Stock of an Essential Program in Uncertain Times.

In our webinar session, we discussed how Medicaid provides health insurance for approximately one out of five Americans.  That’s about 20 percent of our population.  It serves the young and the old and is intended primarily to assist those with low incomes and/or disabilities.

Military families should be familiar with Medicaid for at least four reasons:

  • When a family member has a serious health condition, they may need Medicaid to supplement their TRICARE or other healthcare benefits.
  • Like many in the civilian population, military personnel are often caregivers for older loved ones. Medicaid is a major source of insurance and support for those needing care, and it’s important to understand Medicaid’s role in long-term care and service options.
  • Because Medicaid systems vary so greatly across the states, military families in the PCS process, nearing separation or retirement, may want to know the lay of the land in those places where they may be moving.
  • Finally, because of Medicaid’s influence on the health care system and on state and federal budgets, it is important to be aware of program happenings.

Medicaid is front and center these days in Washington, D.C.  In fact, just yesterday the U.S. Senate leadership released its proposed version of health reform legislation.  Medicaid is the focus of much proposed action. The bill calls for changing the way Medicaid funds are allocated to the states.  There is also a proposal to gradually end the expansion of Medicaid that was provided to certain low-income populations under the Affordable Care Act of 2010.  Approximately 14 million individuals are covered under the Medicaid expansion option in 31 states plus the District of Columbia.

The amount of press coverage and analysis that these proposals are generating is significant, but I would suggest that the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and New York Times are good sources to look at to get analysis from various angles and perspectives.

These reform debates are likely only to get louder and more intense in the weeks to come.  I often recommend to those who are concerned about current policy controversies to take “the long view” (of course escaping to the beach and reading a good novel is worth considering as well).  By taking the long view we can better place things in context.

Medicaid has been around for over 50 years and is no stranger to debate and calls for reform.  One of the big takeaways from this week’s Medicaid webinar is that there are many vested interests wrapped up in Medicaid.  These include not only advocates for patients and low income families, but also many healthcare providers, hospitals, long-term care providers, and managed care organizations.  Because of the economic, political, and social issues involved, these and other stakeholders will want to have their voices heard as things move forward.

To fully understand Medicaid’s role and scope, I would recommend taking a look at online resources offered by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  The Kaiser Family Foundation is widely recognized as a leading authority on health policy matters. Two of their resources are especially effective.  An Issue Brief entitled, “10 Things to Know about Medicaid,” provides great insights on the program’s role in providing health coverage for the disabled, the elderly, and low income families while also providing perspective on funding and health outcomes.  Just as an aside, I also highly recommend a recent column by David Grabowski and his colleagues published in the New York Times that reminds us, especially as we get older, that we may need to rely on Medicaid.

The second Kaiser Family Foundation resource allows us to have quick and ready access to national and state level data and analysis on Medicaid – all in a very accessible and readable format. The foundation offers Medicaid State Fact Sheets on its website. Of course if you want to read this at the beach or on vacation, you’ll need to bring along a computer!

The OneOp is dedicated to providing information and discussion on major health policy issues relevant to military families and to those who provide assistance and guidance to families navigating healthcare and other systems of care and support.   Please take time for that favorite vacation or beach read this summer, but in the interim consider some of the resources offered here.  In addition, we would like to remind you that an in-depth three-part series on Medicaid is available through the OneOp portal.  Just link to our Medicare & Medicaid Resources blog post.  Through our portal, you will find information on other important health care topics.   For example, information on the Medicare program (which provides health insurance for seniors) can be found in our recent blog ‘Are You Covered? – Medicare Overseas’ as well as our archived webinar Medicare 2017 & What it Means for You.

In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be sure to keep on top of things and share with you resources and analysis of what is happening with health policy developments and how they might affect caregivers and their families.

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on June 23, 2017.