States’ Policies on Health Care Exclude Some of the Poorest

By Robert Pear
The New York Times, May 24, 2013

The refusal by about half the states to expand Medicaid will leave millions of poor people ineligible for government-subsidized health insurance under President Obama’s health care law even as many others with higher incomes receive federal subsidies to buy insurance.

More than half of all people without health insurance live in states that are not planning to expand Medicaid.

People in those states who have incomes from the poverty level up to four times that amount ($11,490 to $45,960 a year for an individual) can get federal tax credits to subsidize the purchase of private health insurance. But many people below the poverty line will be unable to get tax credits, Medicaid or other help with health insurance.…

The poorest of the poor, those living below the federal poverty level, are ineligible for subsidies for the exchange plans, and they will not be able to enroll in Medicaid in those states that have refused to expand eligibility beyond those who are already qualified.

For those living in poverty, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could have provided plans through the state exchanges with subsidies for 100 percent of the premiums and 100 percent of the out-of-pocket costs. Instead, it was decided to cover those in poverty with Medicaid, while limiting the income-indexed exchange subsidies to those living above 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

That was before the Supreme Court ruled that state participation in the Medicaid expansion could not be made mandatory. Since so many states opted out, millions of the very poor will not be eligible for Medicaid nor for the exchange plan subsidies. They will simply remain uninsured.

Because of the obstructionists in Congress, no legislative remedy is possible at this time. Too many members of Congress want to prove that ACA won’t work. Of course, they do not advance any program that will.

Even if all glitches were eliminated, the fundamental structure of ACA is irreparably flawed. It will leave 31 million uninsured, establish under-insurance as the new standard, and fail to control costs. So let’s replace it with a system that covers not only the poorest of the poor, but covers all of us – an improved Medicare for all.