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Medicaid at 50: “A Good Investment”

Healthy children who have health insurance coverage through Medicaid grow up to be healthier and more productive adults, according to several new studies. Credit: Cathy Yeulet/iStockPhoto.com
Healthy children who have health insurance coverage through Medicaid grow up to be healthier and more productive adults, according to several new studies. Credit: Cathy Yeulet/iStockPhoto.com
July 29, 2015

MADISON, Wis. - As Medicaid turns 50, a number of new studies show that kids with Medicaid coverage become healthier, more successful adults.

This means the government is getting a good return on its investment in the program, said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families.

"What's so interesting about this new research is, it's showing that when these kids grow up, there are so many ways in which Medicaid has benefited them," she said. "Their health is better, their educational success is better and their economic outcomes are improved."

Wisconsin is one of 20 states that has not accepted federal support to expanded Medicaid, as provided for in the Affordable Care Act. The state does have BadgerCare, the federally supported Children's Health Insurance Program that offers the same coverage as Medicaid to low-income families free or at reduced premiums. Unlike Medicaid, however, BadgerCare does not cover seniors and people with disablities.

Sashi Gregory, a health-care policy analyst for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said nearly half a million Wisconsin kids are covered by Medicaid. She said the program is crucial to Wisconsin's future.

"With more children living in poverty, Medicaid has become a vitally important program for improving their health and helping them succeed," she said. "That's essential if we expect Wisconsin to be economically successful in the years ahead."

The studies show that children covered by Medicaid have higher incomes later in life and are less reliant on safety-net programs, which Alker called a strong return on investment.

Many people do not think of children when they think of Medicaid, but children make up the largest group of Medicaid beneficiaries. It provides coverage for nearly 33 million children in the United States. Gregory said having health-insurance coverage is a key to a child's well-being.

"It ensures that kids can get the preventive health care they need in order to avoid more expensive treatment," she said. "Medicaid enables children to be ready to learn in school, and healthy kids grow up to be better educated and more successful."

Medicaid's 50-year history allows for high-quality research to be done on decades of data. Alker said the program has adapted over the years and hasn't always been subject to the kind of partisan political bickering going on today.

"I hope we can move beyond that," she said. "The value of these studies is to actually look at the numbers, and what all of these studies show is that Medicaid is providing an incredibly valuable service to kids, and that the taxpayers are getting a great return on their investment."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI