The House-approved American Health Care Act of 2017, recently renamed the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BRCA) of 2017 by the Senate, is on course to drastically cut Medicaid benefits for many Americans. According to the New York Times, Medicaid pays for most of the 1.4 million Americans who reside in a nursing home. The bill is the Republican party’s answer to repealing and replacing Obamacare and is currently awaiting a senate vote.
Medicaid a Lifeline for Elderly
Of all the changes called for with the BRCA, one of the most controversial is slashing funding given to the states to support their Medicaid programs. Medicaid is a federal program but is run by the states themselves. If funding is cut, states will be forced to reduce the amount they are able to pay for services such as nursing home care. In an article in the New York Times, a Dogwood Village nursing home in Virginia serves as an example of what the population of a typical nursing home looks like. A common misconception is that Medicaid is a program meant for only poor Americans. For many of the elderly that rely on it, Medicaid has become a life raft because they have outlived their savings. The article notes ‘Many entered old age solidly middle class but turned to Medicaid, which was once thought of as a government program exclusively for the poor, after exhausting their insurance and assets. ‘ With average annual nursing home costs higher than $80,000, it has become unaffordable for most Americans to continue to live in a nursing home without the assistance of Medicaid. At Dogwood Village, many residents had lifelong careers and simply have spent everything they had on nursing home care before turning to Medicaid.
Already Understaffed & Undersupplied
The residents and staff at Dogwood Village in Virginia are justly fearful of what changes may lie ahead due to Medicaid cuts. A former administrator of the nursing home remarked that the basic supplies they currently use aren’t top of the line. Those aware of the potential changes that lie ahead are fearful that some supplies and materials might be reduced or eliminated, leading to a decline in their quality of life. Like residents of most nursing homes, they are people who just want their basic needs to be taken care of.
Cutting Medicaid could also spell disaster for many nursing homes that already staff themselves at unacceptably low staff to resident ratios. Less Medicaid funding means a diminished ability to pay staff, giving facilities an excuse to continue to operate at even lower ratios than most already do. Other experts believe this will give facilities the excuse to accept less Medicaid patients, leaving more room for those who are wealthy enough to pay the high cost of living in a nursing home. Either way, the outcome is not great.
For the 1.4 million nursing home residents currently relying on Medicaid and for the 75 million baby boomers that experts expect to require nursing home care in the coming years, slashing Medicaid means that despite all their years of paying it forward for the service, should they need it, they just may not be able to have the program pay them back.
Cuts to Medicaid Will Also Impact Children
Sadly, the majority of Americans who rely on Medicaid are pregnant women and children. Cuts to funding will affect not only the elderly, but health care services for sick children and women at one of their most vulnerable stages of life. Today, Medicaid is the single largest insurer for children and cuts to the program could mean an inability to receive care that sick, injured, or children with disabilities desperately need. Many families find themselves on Medicaid after meeting their traditional insurance plan’s lifetime maximum. As is the case with many aging Americans, when healthcare expenses drain any remaining savings a family with a sick, injured, or child with disabilities has, they must rely on Medicaid.
Still, experts believe the elderly will feel the brunt of budget reductions because services for the elderly and older disabled Americans have traditionally always been targeted when looking to save money. It’s an unfortunate truth: no matter where the cuts come from, should the Better Care Reconciliation Act pass the Senate, those who need healthcare the most are going to suffer.