From The Hill‘s Congress Blog:
By Jennifer Ng’andu
Deputy Director of the Health Policy Project, NCLR
09/26/11 11:53 AM ET
There was a bright spot in the U.S. Census data released this week. While nearly a million more Latinos are wrestling with the ills of poverty, uninsurance has gone down in the Latino community. The improvements are slight, but many assumed that even small gains couldn’t be possible, as record numbers of Hispanics grapple with the challenges of high unemployment rates, declining incomes, and smaller household budgets.
The small improvements are due in large part to the role that public health insurance programs, like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), play in the households of Latinos and other Americans. There is, however, a serious concern on the horizon. Come Christmastime, the recently appointed congressional Super Committee will design a federal budget plan hoping to steer the U.S. out of debt. NCLR (National Council of La Raza) and numerous other civil rights groups fear that this conversation will be mired in politics about cutting spending for “less popular programs,” like Medicaid, regardless of the very real need that they serve.
Unlike other American communities, Latinos saw boosts in coverage in several areas of health insurance, with more of the population making promising gains in employer-based coverage and Medicare. But the numbers for Medicaid and CHIP are truly striking and continue to demonstrate that these programs are a lifeline for the Hispanic community. More than one in four (26.4 percent) Latinos access health coverage through Medicaid or CHIP. Hispanic children benefit even more, with one in two (49.4 percent) receiving coverage through the programs.
The robustness of Medicaid and CHIP not only serves as a buffer from uninsurance, but also helps many avoid the frequent challenges of high health care costs which can be especially debilitating when times are already hard.
Unfortunately, there’s often too little recognition of the effect that these programs have because those who benefit are among the most disenfranchised from the political process. Now, the fate of the Medicaid program and many programs for working Americans hinges on the decisions of just 12 policymakers. NCLR is asking whether or not the needs of vulnerable communities will be taken into account or whether politicians will sideswipe those who have the most to gain. Will the Super Committee listen to the hundreds of doctors, religious leaders, and community members who wrote to us in less than a week to say that Medicaid was a lifeline for millions of Latinos?
One of those testimonials comes from Elvia in Nebraska, who has been priced out of health insurance, but thankfully can ensure that her eight-month-old baby receives medical care through the Medicaid program. The $600 a month that she and her husband were paying in health insurance was simply too steep to afford.
“We are grateful for this program because if it weren’t for it, our child would not have the appropriate quality health care needed in order to be a healthy and happy baby,” writes Elvia. “My husband and I work and pay taxes, and still we cannot afford the exaggerated private health insurance premiums.”
Congress needs to find a solution to stem our nation’s growing deficit if the United States wants to remain a strong country. But if we look at the numbers, there are millions of people, including many in the Hispanic community, who are counting on programs like Medicaid when all else fails. Cutting these programs today will hurt America down the line when we have to pay for the uninsured. It would be a tragedy if political gamesmanship trumped the real needs of Americans and brought about the demise of Medicaid or any other health program.
Jennifer Ng’andu is the Deputy Director of the Health Policy Project, NCLR.