All We Got Was Expanded Medicaid

Published October 24, 2014

Ever see one of those t-shirts that read, “I went to Paris and all I got was this stupid t-shirt,” or something similar?

In a few years we might start seeing current and former Democratic members of Congress wearing t-shirts reading, “I voted for national health care and all I got was an expansion of Medicaid.”

OK, maybe they won’t ever be that honest, but in a few years there will be a lot of people who originally supported Obamacare wondering why they bothered. It now seems to be little more than a massive expansion of a failing Medicaid system alongside a modest boost to the private insurance market, paid for with massive financial and political costs.

When Obamacare was passed and signed, proponents hailed it as a giant step toward providing health care to every American. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in 2012, “Everybody will have … better quality care and better access.”

Whoops. A recent analysis by The Heritage Foundation found Obamacare to date has been little more than an expansion of Medicaid, which is pretty much the opposite of accessible, quality care.

Using data provided by an independent health industry firm, Heritage calculated about 2.5 million people gained private insurance coverage during the first six months of 2014. That is far short of the 8 million people who signed up through the exchanges.

The numbers in the Heritage analysis are revealing. During the first six months of 2014, an additional 6.3 million people did in fact enter the individual health insurance market, either through the Obamacare exchanges or by purchasing policies directly from insurance companies.

That may appear to be good news, but when you look at the sharp decline in employer-provided care, it becomes clear a lot of those people newly insured in the individual market were previously in the group market. In fact, about 3.8 million Americans lost their employer-provided health insurance during the same period.

Subtract 3.8 million people losing employer coverage from the 6.3 million gaining individual coverage, and you are left with only 2.5 million people getting private health insurance in the first six months of the year.

And while private health insurance enrollment has budged only modestly, Medicaid enrollment has grown dramatically. Heritage found 6 million Americans have been added to Medicaid in just the past six months.

You’ve probably never heard anyone say “Medicaid for All” should be the guiding concept behind health care reform. That should tell you all you need to know about the quality of care that program delivers.

And what, for proponents of Obamacare, has been the political cost of what is turning out to be primarily a Medicaid expansion? Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in 2010, and lost their Senate majority this week, both attributable in large part to the disruption Obamacare has caused.

Similarly, President Barack Obama’s credibility has taken massive hits over the botched launching of the website and his many false statements, such as his claim that “if you like your plan you can keep it.”

Most importantly, the rushed development and passage of Obamacare squandered a real opportunity to solve some of the problems that plague the U.S. health care system. The public is unlikely to trust Obamacare proponents for a long time on this issue.

But hey, they’ll have those shirts.