Catholic Health Association initiative: ‘Medicaid makes it possible’ illustrates the need for strengthening program

By James L. Robinson
For Today’s Catholic

Believing that current Congressional efforts endanger an essential part of the U.S. health safety net, the Catholic Health Association (CHA), comprised of health organizations that treat one in six hospitalized patients in the United States, has launched a public education campaign to publicize these legislative assaults on Medicaid. Dubbed “Medicaid makes it possible,” the initiative provides health organizations with information and publicity materials to illustrate the need for strengthening, not weakening, Medicaid.

The original Medicaid law, along with the Medicare legislation, was signed 53 years ago on July 30, 1965, as part of the amendments to the Social Security Act. President Lyndon Johnson traveled to the Harry S Truman Library in Independence, Mo., to honor President Truman, an instrumental leader in the 20-year effort to pass the groundbreaking legislation.

When he introduced President Johnson, President Truman commented, “Mr. President, I am glad to have lived this long and to witness today the signing of the Medicare bill which puts this nation right where it needs to be, to be right.”

The CHA fears that 1965 legislation, enhanced many times over the succeeding years, is now endangered. What is not fully understood by many, CHA feels, is how many Americans rely on Medicaid for help. For example, one in five Americans, including many with complex medical needs, now have access to affordable health coverage because of Medicaid. That translates to about 70 million people. Who are those Americans who rely on Medicaid? According to government figures, Medicaid covers all the following today:
• 62 percent of nursing home residents.
• 39 percent of American children.
• 45 percent of non-elderly disabled Americans.
• 49 percent of all births in America.

“CHA’s initiative recognizes that broader access to care is good health care and good fiscal policy. While health care is enormously complicated and requires the collaboration of many partners, there is an essential role for federal programs such as Medicaid,” said Father Charles E. Bouchard, OP, STD, senior director of Theology and Ethics for the CHA.

Medicaid is a partnership between the federal government and state governments, unlike Medicare or Social Security. Attempts last summer to transform Medicaid into block grants to states, which failed, strayed from the original vision of Medicaid, according to CHA, and further, would not keep financial pace with increasing costs, resulting in the loss of coverage for millions. Efforts today by the Republican-controlled Congress to cap federal Medicaid expenditures would also drastically reduce health-care coverage for many. According to Health Affairs magazine, “Under these proposals, once the federal funding cap was reached any further costs of providing Medicaid-based care would be solely borne by the state. Capped funding inherently shifts responsibilities for financing Medicaid to states.”

Out of this environment the CHA initiative “Medicaid makes it possible” was born. Launched in June at the CHA Assembly 2018 in San Diego, the organization asserts that health care is a basic human right, essential to human dignity. The organization has created a comprehensive, interactive website (chausa.org/Medicaid) that provides information on Medicaid, state-by-state, and a space to share Medicaid stories.

Dennis P. Gonzales, Ph.D., vice president of Mission Integration for CHRISTUS Santa Rosa, echoes the CHA concerns about the political threats to Medicaid and endorses their “Medicaid makes it possible” campaign. “As a Catholic health care ministry, we are called to serve the most vulnerable in our communities. The Medicaid program is vital in order for us to fulfill this sacred mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Budgets are ethical documents; where a society spends its resources reflects the values of that society,” he stated.

“Actually, 100 percent of my patients are on Medicaid, either based on income or on disabilities in children with special health care needs (the latter is the more common),” said Dr. Rushi Kaushik, MD, MPH, FAAP, assistant professor of Pediatrics with Baylor College of Medicine and The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. She adds, “These families are parents of children who require ventilators at home. They are very sick and private insurance does not cover the costs of the equipment, a nurse in the home, or their physical, occupational and speech therapies.”
This landmark legislation, which was vigorously opposed by major health organizations in 1965 (American Medical Association, American Hospital Association) is now viewed as a critical health care lifeline for millions, with overwhelming health industry support. As CHA states, “Medicaid makes it possible for children, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, veterans and working families from across the United States to access high-quality, affordable health care services.”

In his dedication of this legislation to President Truman, President Johnson said, “Many men can make many proposals. Many men can draft many laws. But few have the piercing and humane eye, which can see beyond the words to the people that they touch. Few can see past the speeches and the political battles to the doctor over there that is tending the infirm, and to the hospital that is receiving those in anguish, or feel in their heart painful wrath at the injustice which denies the miracle of healing to the old and to the poor. And fewer still have the courage to stake reputation, and position, and the effort of a lifetime upon such a cause when there are so few that share it.”

James. L. Robinson is advance care planning coordinator of the CHRISTUS Physician Group.

This article was originally published in the August 17 issue of Today’s Catholic Newspaper.

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