Medicaid celebrates its 50th birthday Thursday. For half a century, this program has provided health insurance coverage and delivered quality health care for Americans of all walks of life – from children to older Americans to people with disabilities and many adults who work but can’t afford private health insurance.
For the last five years, we’ve been working with governors and state legislatures across the country to discuss how we can expand the program to give even more Americans access to life-saving and life-improving health coverage.
Much of our message centers on the health benefits for millions of Americans and the economic upside for states that expand: comprehensive benefits with high standards of care and more federal dollars flowing into states and less money spent by local hospitals covering the care of people without insurance.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is promoting integrated and coordinated care that focuses on the consumer, including innovative approaches that bring together the full array of physical health care, behavioral health care and long-term community supports in a single system so that the person is cared for as a whole.
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By putting consumers at the center of their care, providers can focus on the big health picture and operate with a better understanding of what patients need. As a result, they help us get to our vision of a health care system that delivers better care, spends our dollars more wisely and puts educated and empowered consumers in the center of their care to keep them
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is providing funding to states to help establish new ways to deliver care. Colorado, for example, is working with the support of a $65 million State Innovation Model grant to integrate primary and behavioral health care providers in more than 400 practices across the state. As a result, more than 1,600 Colorado providers will begin working together to focus on care for the whole person for individuals covered by Medicaid.
Working together with states, we are modernizing the way people enroll in coverage. Several states, like my home state of West Virginia, are taking advantage of ways to streamline Medicaid enrollment for eligible people. If the state already has a person’s information to determine eligibility through another state program, that person only has to sign a short form or call a toll-free number to confirm he wants Medicaid. The consumer does not need to provide additional information, and the state works behind the scenes to verify any other information it may need to determine eligibility.
Thanks to Medicaid innovations in communities across the country, more people are getting better care more efficiently and it’s benefiting everyone, not just Medicaid enrollees.
Thanks to insurance coverage expansions, including through Medicaid and the Marketplace, as a nation we reduced the costs associated with people showing up at hospitals without insurance by an estimated $7.4 billion in 2014 alone, with $5 billion of that reduction from states that expanded Medicaid. Those savings are passed along to many segments of the health care system.
It’s time to build on progress.
More than 4 million additional Americans could have access to quality, affordable health care if every state expanded its Medicaid program. As secretary of Health and Human Services, I’m committed to working with states to find solutions and design systems that meet their needs. As evidenced by our work with Iowa, Arkansas, Indiana and other states, we have supported demonstration projects that reflect a state’s unique objectives while keeping faith with the law’s goals and consumer protections.
Medicaid is a vital lifeline for millions, but there is always work we can do to make the program better. Together, we need to find common ground to extend health care to more Americans, build on the innovations of Medicaid for generations to come and continue to strengthen our economy.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell is secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She wrote this for McClatchy Newspapers.