Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) — For many years, the Medicaid program – the federal health program for the poor and disabled – has been the Rodney Dangerfield of entitlements. It didn’t get any respect.
Compared to Medicare – the George Clooney of entitlement programs – Medicaid went unnoticed. What an irony that, from a budgetary perspective, the program has suddenly become politically untouchable.
This is remarkable on two levels. First, hardly anyone seems to have noticed the change. Second, the change has huge implications for beneficiaries, health-care providers, and politicians trying to pick their poison when choosing programs to cut.
In the past few years, Medicaid has been expanded by Obamacare, has been exempted from automatic budget cuts in the fiscal cliff standoff, and is AWOL from the deficit reduction talks.
In comparison, Medicare was subjected to hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to help pay for Obamacare, is part of the automatic spending cuts beginning in January, and is the only entitlement program that budget negotiators seem willing to cut.
A new Bloomberg Government analysis confirms this shift by examining the Simpson-Bowles budget plan’s Medicare and Medicaid recommendations. That panel was prepared only two years ago to give Medicaid a $60 billion hit, compared to $300 billion for Medicare.
Measured against some options, including proposals to cut as much as $1 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid, $60 billion is almost as good as no cuts at all.
None of these Medicaid cuts are gaining any traction in the talks under way … yet. If Medicaid gets through the budget cutting debate relatively unscathed, it would be the best evidence yet that a seismic shift has occurred in American politics.
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