No matter how you count the numbers, enrollment in Medicaid is rapidly expanding. Despite many Red States refusing federal money, and despite the advancements of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is on a roll. The growth has come, in part, due to the proliferation of “Medicaid managed care plans,” coverage which is paid for by federal or state governments and includes several Children’s Health Plans that are managed by Medicaid.
According to recent projections, the Medicaid rolls are expected to increase by 13 million by 2016. And these figures take into consideration the 22 states whose GOP governors rejected Medicaid money from Washington. This projection may just be the harbinger of a national cultural shift in attitudes toward Medicaid and those in the system.
For years now, Medicare was seen as something “earned and deserved,” a benefit for the nation’s elderly, who had earned their keep. Medicaid was only stigmatized as a handout to the poor, the spare few who could not possibly afford medical care any other way.
Well, things have changed. With a rough economy, rising unemployment, low wage jobs and skyrocketing insurance costs, more and more people are finding themselves among those who don’t quite qualify for ACA coverage but still can’t pay for health coverage on their own.
As with any social trend, there is a tipping point between pariah and protected class. There will always be those who look at others on Medicaid as “takers,” but an increasing number of people are seeing those on Medicaid as people who deserve the assistance they are getting. Part of this may be a symptom of the growing frustration with American healthcare in general, but it may also be the result of a shift in public perception.
Instead of blaming the recipient for “being on Medicaid,” more people are beginning to blame higher healthcare costs for both the rising number of people on Medicaid roles and the increasingly expensive premium costs.
As blame continues to shift toward insurance providers, this alleviates the stigma on Medicaid recipients and turns that into a PR problem for insurers. They may not be feeling the pressure quite yet, but they need to see the writing on the wall and prepare accordingly. While it can be difficult to direct public opinion, it is possible to get ahead of it.