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Medicaid Rollbacks Threaten Biden’s Health Care Achievements

Millions of Americans are facing the risk of losing Medicaid coverage, undoing one of the most significant expansions of healthcare coverage since the introduction of Obamacare. President Joe Biden finds himself grappling with this issue at a particularly inopportune moment.

In recent months, states across the political spectrum have begun removing millions of low-income individuals from their Medicaid programs, marking the first such purge in three years. This development follows the expiration of a pandemic policy designed to prevent sudden loss of health coverage for vulnerable populations.

Nearly 4 million Americans have already lost their Medicaid coverage due to various issues, primarily related to paperwork. Projections suggest that this number could rise to 15 million within a year, though some experts fear the actual toll might be even higher.

This wave of coverage reductions, a significant reconfiguration of the health insurance landscape since the inception of Obamacare, coincides with a resurgence in Covid cases and Biden’s campaign for re-election, aimed at convincing working-class voters that his policies have improved their lives.

This turn of events threatens to erode the progress the White House previously celebrated in terms of health coverage and poverty reduction. Amid existing doubts about the economy’s state, Biden’s supporters worry that the ongoing loss of coverage will undermine his central message that his policies are benefiting the most vulnerable.

Joan Alker, the executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, characterized the situation as an “unprecedented situation” that may cause an increase in the uninsured rate.

This predicament has its roots in a congressional decision in early 2020 to suspend the requirement for Medicaid enrollees to renew their coverage annually, ensuring continuous coverage throughout the pandemic.

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This led to a record 93 million people being covered by Medicaid, with one in four Americans benefiting from the program.

However, when Congress lifted this protection in April before the Covid public health emergency ended, states began reviewing their Medicaid rolls to identify individuals no longer eligible due to increased income or changes in circumstances like pregnancy or parenting status. The consequences have been dramatic.

Florida removed over 400,000 individuals from Medicaid in three months, Texas cut off over half a million in a single month, primarily due to paperwork issues. Even Democratic-led states like Kansas and Kentucky are seeing significant drops in Medicaid enrollees.

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The Biden administration claims to be actively pressuring states to rectify errors and minimize coverage losses. They emphasize that their efforts are having a substantial impact, but have chosen not to criticize specific states publicly to avoid damaging relationships with them.

While Democrats hold an advantage on health issues in polls and Biden’s expansion of Obamacare subsidies might assist some individuals transitioning from Medicaid, the coverage losses could fuel skepticism among voters about the government’s effectiveness during challenging economic times.

Jamila Michener, co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity, noted that past instances of Medicaid coverage loss correlated with decreased voter turnout. This could potentially lead to negative electoral consequences in regions where disenrollment alienates Medicaid beneficiaries from politics and the electoral system.

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