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Do opinions of Medicaid patients matter?

Low-Income Residents In Three States View Medicaid As Equal To Or Better Than Private Coverage, Support Expansion

By Arnold M. Epstein, Benjamin D. Sommers, Yelena Kuznetsov and Robert J. Blendon
Health Affairs, October 8, 2014 (online)

Abstract

Expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to millions of low-income adults has been controversial, yet little is known about what these Americans themselves think about Medicaid. We conducted a telephone survey in late 2013 of nearly 3,000 low-income adults in three Southern states—Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas—that have adopted different approaches to the options for expansion. Nearly 80 percent of our sample in all three states favored Medicaid expansion, and approximately two-thirds of uninsured respondents said that they planned to apply for either Medicaid or subsidized private coverage in 2014. Yet awareness of their state’s actual expansion plans was low. Most viewed having Medicaid as better than being uninsured and at least as good as private insurance in overall quality and affordability. While the debate over Medicaid expansion continues, support for expansion is strong among low-income adults, and the perceived quality of Medicaid coverage is high.

From the Discussion

In our survey of nearly 3,000 low-income adults in three states, we found strong and consistent enthusiasm—among nearly 80 percent of respondents—for expanding Medicaid under the ACA and a more nuanced picture of whether it would be preferable to gain coverage via traditional Medicaid or subsidized private insurance.

Support for expansion by the population who would most likely be eligible for it may provide further impetus for expansion, although low-income adults and the uninsured may lack the clout to bring about this policy change in many states where the ACA remains unpopular among the political leadership.

Quality and affordability of care were generally rated as better with Medicaid coverage, while private coverage was seen as offering better access to and more respect from providers. These views represent a nuanced but reasonable comparison of Medicaid versus private health insurance and are consistent with some of the empirical evidence in this area. Recent studies indicate that Medicaid provides low-income adults with better financial protection than does private coverage, while lower reimbursement rates in Medicaid have been linked to lower physician participation rates in that program compared to private coverage. Favorable views toward Medicaid were most common among racial and ethnic minorities, people with lower education and income, and those in worse health.

http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/early/2014/10/02/hlthaff.2014.0747

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Medicaid, Often Criticized, Is Quite Popular With Its Customers

By Margot Sanger-Katz
The New York Times, October 9, 2014

A study published in the journal Health Affairs found that poor residents of Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas, when asked to compare Medicaid with private coverage, said that Medicaid offered better “quality of health care” and made them better able to “afford the health care” they needed.

Medicaid, the federal-state program for poor and disabled Americans, is a frequent political target, often described as substandard because of its restricted list of doctors and the red tape — sometimes even worse than no insurance at all.

But repeated surveys show that the program is quite popular among the people who use it.

When asked to consider it alongside other big, popular government programs, Medicaid compares favorably, said Robert Blendon, a public health professor at Harvard who studies public opinion on health care issues and was a co-author on the recent study. “It’s only when you compare it to Medicare, which is so much more popular than 96 percent of what the federal government does, that it looks unimpressive,” Mr. Blendon said.

The people surveyed by the Harvard researchers didn’t prefer Medicaid to private insurance in every respect. They gave private coverage the edge when it came to seeing “doctors you want, without having to wait too long” and “to have doctors treat you with care and respect.” But Medicaid came out ahead on the question of whether it enabled them to “be able to afford the health care you need,” and on the overall question of “quality of health care.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/10/upshot/medicaid-often-criticized-is-qu...

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Comment:

By Don McCanne

Low-income patients strongly support the Medicaid program. It provides better financial protection than does private insurance, and they perceive the care to be of high quality. Their primary concern is that “private coverage was seen as offering better access to and more respect from providers” than does Medicaid.

When asked whether it was better to have Medicaid or to be uninsured, there was strong agreement that Medicaid patients have higher quality of care, have greater access to doctors, are treated with better respect, and, especially, are better able to afford the health care that they need, than are the uninsured.

In fact, according to Harvard’s Robert Blendon, Medicaid compares quite favorably to other popular government programs, though the support is “unimpressive” when compared to the support for Medicare.

Unfortunately, the politicians in many states do not seem to care. Even though the federal government would provide most of the funds, they would rather leave these people uninsured. Obviously, they could care less about the opinions of this low-income population that lacks political clout.

Why would Medicare be more popular than Medicaid? Medicare that is supplemented with Medigap, retiree plans, or Part C plans removes financial barriers to care, thus providing a similar level of financial protection as Medicaid - with the exception that Medicaid covers long term care as well. Medicaid does have the stigma of a welfare program whereas Medicare is considered to be an earned right available to all qualified by age or disability. The greatest reason that Medicare is preferred is that the patients have free choice of their physicians, including specialists.

Under what system would a low-income patient fare best? One in which the welfare stigma is removed, and everyone is treated equal. One in which financial barriers such as large deductibles and coinsurance are removed. One in which patients have free choice of their health care professionals and hospitals. One in which a high standard of quality is the norm for all. In other words, low-income patients would fare best is a system that would work well for all of us - a single-payer, improved Medicare for all.