Issue: Medicaid & the Uninsured


For those without health insurance and with low-enough income, Medicaidwill open opportunities for care in 2014.

That’s the goal of the new health care law to help expand Medicaid eligibility for people making up to 133 percent of the poverty level in a year.  But the law is also under review by the U.S. Supreme, which is expected to rule this summer on whether the law is constitutional. At question is whether the federal government can require individuals to buy health insurance.

As for the expansion of Medicaid, advocates say it will help millions of the uninsured and critics say it will cost too many millions of dollars.

“There’s an opportunity to cover a lot of people who don’t have insurance,” said senior health law attorney Trilby de Jung of the Empire Justice Center in Syracuse. It is a law firm that advocates for the poor.

Medicaid would be expanded under the nation’s new health care law, otherwise known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was signed into law in March 2010. The law is the centerpiece of Barack Obama’s administration.

Medicaid is the tax-supported health insurance program funded by both federal and state governments.  And in New York, counties pay a share of the Medicaid costs.

Nationally, over 13 million Americans are expected to join the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor in 2014.  The health care law expands Medicaid to cover those younger than 65 who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level in a year. In 2012, that would be an income of  $30,657 for a family of four.

Consider these statistics on Medicaid and the uninsured:

  •  Nationally, the health care overhaul  is expected to help about 33 million uninsured Americans in 2014.  About 48.2 million Americans are now uninsured, according to a 2010 report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • In New York State, nearly 3 million beneficiaries  are enrolled in Medicaid, according to a federal government reports from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  • In Onondaga County, over 460,000 people were on Medicaid in Onondaga County, according to the 2010 Census.   Under the new health care law, Medicaid’s expansion is predicted to cost $1.2 trillion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Much of the criticism of the new health care law focuses on its requirement for individuals to buy insurance if their employers do not provide it. Among the critics are the National Federation of Independent Business, the trade association of small businesses. The group argues that the requirement is unconstitutional, said Jack Mozloom, media relations coordinator.

Congress overstepped its constitutional authority as part of federal law,” Mozloom said.

For small or independent business owners, Mozloom said, more employers would be likely to cancel the health insurance for their employees because the costs would be too high.  “The great irony is that a law that was supposed to increase health care for Americans,” Mozloom said, “is likely to have the opposite effect.”

Among the supporters of the law is Alyce Crossman, vice president at Upstate Home Care, a company that provides health services to the homebound. The lack of insurance for patients,  she said, causes hospitals and other providers to pass along costs to others  “When uninsured people come to the hospital, it creates a huge bill that someone else has to pay,” Crossman said.

She supports the law’s requirement for everyone to have health insurance, just as many are required to have care insurance.  “When you get in a car accident, you have car insurance,” Crossman said.  “When you get sick, you should have to have health insurance, too.”

(Kathleen Lees is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)


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