GOP Medicaid Block Grants Cut Costs … and Care

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Most people have heard the aphorism, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Referring to the GOP’s cure for Medicaid, “If it sounds too good to be true, it might be true; but guaranteed, it won’t be good.”

A Feb. 6, 2017 report on Medicaid makes this point perfectly. The GOP commissioned a study by Avalere Health, a health care consulting group, to assess the fiscal impact of federal block grants to state Medicaid programs. They evaluated two funding approaches: a lump sum to be negotiated and a per capita, i.e., per enrollee, formula.

Their study showed that block grants could save Washington between $110 billion and $150 billion over five years depending on which formula was used. Roughly half the states would get a small increase in their federal contribution and half would get less, sometimes a lot less. The biggest loser, Arizona Medicaid, would receive 62 percent less than it is currently receiving from Washington.

With the present Medicaid state-federal matching scheme, the more a state spends, the more money it gets from Washington. This produces a classic perverse incentive: rewarding the outcome you don’t want. We want states to reduce spending, yet Washington rewards them—with federal dollars—when they spend more! With a block grant, this perverse incentive goes away. This is a good thing.

Medicaid block grants could save $110-150 billion and would eliminate the perverse incentive. Sounds like a great idea. It makes wonderful sound bytes, and the GOP seems to want to run with it.

There is just one teeny, tiny problem with block grants as proposed: no health care.

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