Mainers voted to expand Medicaid last year. Could these states be next?

Jennie Pirkl campaign manager for "Yes on 2" announces victory on 2017 Election Day in Portland, Maine. Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Republicans in Congress may have relented on their attempts to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act, but the battle has shifted to states. Citizens in Idaho, Utah, Missouri and Nebraska have taken Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act into their own hands via ballot initiative campaigns, hoping to force statewide votes to either adopt or reject expansion this coming November.

Medicaid provides health coverage for more than 68 million Americans with low incomes or disabilities through federal and state programs. The far-reaching 2010 Affordable Care Act law, which expanded Medicaid coverage, was lambasted by conservatives as federal overreach. A 2012 Supreme Court ruling said that rather than being forced, states had to opt into Medicaid expansion.

Since then, 32 states have done so. But 18 states have not.

It’s been politically challenging for governors and legislators “who spent years railing against the federal overreach or the assaults on individual liberty in the ACA” to now back Medicaid expansion, said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

But for many states “expanding Medicaid makes a lot of sense” since more people get coverage and the federal government pays nearly the full cost, said Ben Ippolito, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on health economics.

The campaigns to expand Medicaid via ballot have varied in scope and success. After Maine voters petitioned for and passed a first-of-its-kind expansion last November, campaigns in Idaho and Utah have gained momentum to expand Medicaid coverage. In Missouri, there was a longshot effort to gather 100,000 signatures to put expansion on the state ballot. The head of the campaign, Gary Peterson, couldn’t get the state Democratic party on board, only mustering support from local church groups. He told the PBS NewsHour that he suspended his campaign in February. And in Nebraska, residents launched a petition drive to appeal to voters this November after six consecutive years of failed legislation.

Where is the fight over Medicaid expansion now, and where will it go next? Here’s what we know.

Who exactly does Medicaid affect?

In 24 states, at least 50 percent of births are financed by Medicaid, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Medicaid also covers costs for about 62 percent of seniors living in nursing homes.

The ACA’s Medicaid expansion raised the income limit on the program, allowing more people to qualify, and also allowed adults without children to enroll.

In a 2016 study, the Urban Institute reported that expanding Medicaid in the 19 states who had not yet done so would make more than 13 million people newly eligible. (Maine didn’t expand until 2017.)


The issue: In November, Medicaid expansion made the ballot in Maine — the first time this had occurred in any state since Congress passed the ACA in 2010. Fifty-nine percent of Mainers who voted supported expanding Medicaid, rebuking Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who had previously vetoed five expansion bills.

On July 2, people will become eligible under the law.

What’s happening now: LePage, who called expansion “fiscally irresponsible,” had to submit by April 3 a state plan to the federal government on how it would fund the expansion. In December, LePage sent a letter to the Maine Legislature outlining demands for how to fund the expansion, stating, for example, that raising taxes or drawing money from Maine’s Budget Stabilization (or, rainy day) Fund was “not an option.”

When asked whether the administration submitted the state plan by the deadline, LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said that “we should not make a down payment without a plan to pay for the ongoing cost” and that LePage “laid out four simple principles to guide how to pay for expansion without jeopardizing the state’s long-term fiscal health,” referring to the December letter.

What’s next: In an interview, Maine’s Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon called LePage’s December correspondence “his imaginary if-I-were-king letter,” and said that it was “not really going to impact what we’re doing here.”

If the administration shirks funding duties, Gideon said the state’s existing Medicaid funds “are enough to start getting people [from the expansion] online” until January.

Idaho and the “Medicaid mobile”

The campaign: In summer 2017, Luke Mayville drove his forest green 1977 Dodge Tioga RV, dubbed the “Medicaid mobile,” across Idaho to campaign for expanded health care access.

His RV had been the rolling trademark of Reclaim Idaho, the organization coordinating the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative. The “Medicaid for Idaho” campaign began as “an awareness raising tour” with the founders touring the Medicaid mobile across Idaho to gauge and build support, Mayville said.

An estimated 78,000 Idahoans fall into the Medicaid coverage gap — people with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to be eligible for the ACA subsidies that help buy coverage.

By the end of the summer, the RV “was covered with signatures.”

What’s happening now: For Medicaid expansion to reach the ballot, the campaign must gather signatures from a total of 56,192 voters (six percent of the state’s 936,529 registered voters in the 2016 general election). They must also meet separate signature thresholds in just more than half of the state’s 35 legislative districts by May 1.

What lawmakers say: Most of the state’s registered voters are Republican and the GOP-led Legislature stalled on expansion in the past. Republican Gov. Butch Otter presented his own plan, but it was pulled from the House floor in February.

What’s next: So far, the campaign has accumulated about 40,000 signatures, leaving about three weeks to gather the remaining 16,000. Mayville said he believes Medicaid is a nonpartisan issue that people on either side of the aisle can sympathize with. “It really cuts across party lines,” he said.


The campaign: Advocates have been pushing for Medicaid expansion in Utah for years. In 2016, drawn-out battles in the Legislature and governor’s office led to a limited expansion. But advocates like Utah Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis called it “less than crumbs,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

RyLee Curtis, campaign manager of Utah Decides Healthcare, the organization coordinating Utah’s Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, said early efforts she was involved with attracted the attention of The Fairness Project, a nonprofit organization that supports ballot initiatives on issues such as raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid. The organization has provided more than 90 percent of Utah Decides’ roughly $900,000 in contributions, much of which has been spent on signature gathering, according to public records.

What’s happening now: Paid canvassers and volunteers have racked up more than 130,000 signatures to date.

What lawmakers say: At the same time, the state Legislature passed a new partial expansion last month that is estimated to cover about 70,000 low-income Utahns in the Medicaid gap, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. For states that undergo full ACA Medicaid expansion, the federal government funds 90 percent of its costs while the state finances the rest. But this partial expansion, which includes a work requirement, must get federal approval for that same 90 percent federal funding.

Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, said that the Trump administration did not approve a similar request from Arkansas and says it’s unclear whether the administration will approve Utah’s request. Still, it could be “an attractive political compromise.”

What’s next: The campaign for a ballot initiative has exceeded the required 113,143 signatures statewide, but still has to get at least 10 percent of voters from the time of the 2016 election in 26 of the state’s 29 senate districts by April 15. All considered, Curtis said, “we are confident that we can get there.”


The campaign: Proposals have been introduced into the Nebraska Legislature for six consecutive years — all have failed. So one state senator and a group of Nebraskans are trying different approaches.

A petition drive kicked off last month to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot.

Insure the Good Life, the organization leading the charge, and local media outlets have said that expanding Medicaid would provide coverage for about 90,000 additional Nebraskans.

What’s happening now: Amanda Gershon, a sponsor of the petition, told Live Well Nebraska that “the governor and the legislature haven’t solved this problem, so it’s now time for the people to decide.”

Gershon, 35, has been battling chronic health problems since college and around that time lost her health coverage. She said she “went so long without [health] care” that she became gravely ill, but was eventually able to get Medicaid through disability. Even after being approved for disability it took another nine months of paperwork to qualify for Medicaid, Gershon said.

“I really don’t want to see anybody else have to go down that same road to get the health care they need,” Gershon added.

What lawmakers say: Nebraska’s governors have staunchly opposed Medicaid expansion. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has a slew of lengthy statements outlining his objections to Medicaid expansion and decrying attempts by the Legislature to expand coverage.

But 32-year-old state Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat, proposed a state constitutional amendment that would also put expansion on the ballot. “Every year that we have tried on Medicaid expansion in this state, the people that are opposed to it have never come up with alternative solutions — the governor included,” Morfeld told the NewsHour.

“[F]or thousands of people in my district who are low-income, working-class folks, it’s [current Nebraska health care] not only making them go bankrupt, they’re starting to die,” Morfeld said. His bill was referred to a committee.

What’s next: Organizers will have until July 5 to collect about 85,000 valid signatures and meet thresholds in 38 of 93 Nebraska counties.



‘What The Health?’ It’s Nerd Week

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ It’s Nerd Week

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The Trump administration this week issued the rules governing next year’s Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces, and they make some potentially large changes that could result in higher premiums and fewer benefits.

Meanwhile, states are going different ways in addressing the health insurance markets in their states in response to the federal activity. And House Speaker Paul Ryan announced his retirement — leaving an intellectual void among House Republicans when it comes to health care.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are:

  • Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News
  • Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal
  • Sarah Kliff of
  • Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The federal rules for the ACA’s marketplaces could dramatically alter how state regulators determine what plan benefits must be covered.
  • Those rules also change some conditions allowing people to qualify for exemptions to the requirement to have coverage — and they make those exemptions retroactive to 2017. So, some people who opted not to buy insurance and paid a penalty for 2017 may be able to file for refunds from the government.
  • Insurance companies are concerned about a number of the new provisions, including those that might drive healthy consumers away from the marketplaces and alter how insurers are compensated for having unusually high numbers of expensive customers.
  • An announcement from the White House this week said the administration is hoping to extend the work requirements that some states are seeking for Medicaid to other safety-net programs.
  • California and Maryland are among the states looking at ways to shore up their individual insurance markets in light of the changes being made at the federal level.


AIMING HIGHER: Results from the Commonwealth Fund Scorecard on State Health System Performance

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The 2017 edition of the Commonwealth Fund Scorecard on State Health System Performance finds that nearly all state health systems improved on a broad array of health indicators between 2013 and 2015. During this period, which coincides with implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s major coverage expansions, uninsured rates dropped and more people were able to access needed care, particularly those in states that expanded their Medicaid programs. On a less positive note, between 2011–12 and 2013–14, premature death rates rose slightly following a long decline. The Scorecard points to a constant give-and-take in efforts to improve health and health care, reminding us that there is still more to be done.

Vermont was the top-ranked state overall in this year’s Scorecard, followed by Minnesota, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts (Exhibit 1). California, Colorado, Kentucky, New York, and Washington made the biggest jumps in ranking, with New York moving into the top-performing group for the first time. Kentucky also stood out for having improved on more measures than any other state.

Exhibit 1Exhibit 1: Overall State Health System Performance: Scorecard Ranking, 2017

Using the most recent data available, the Scorecard ranks states on more than 40 measures of health system performance in five broad areas: health care access, quality, avoidable hospital use and costs, health outcomes, and health care equity. In reviewing the data, four key themes emerged:

  • There was more improvement than decline in states’ health system performance.
  • States that expanded Medicaid saw greater gains in access to care.
  • Premature death rates crept up in almost two-thirds of states.
  • Across all measures, there was a threefold variation in performance, on average, between top- and bottom-performing states, signifying opportunities for improvement.

By 2015, fewer people in every state lacked health insurance. Across the country, more patients benefited from better quality of care in doctors’ offices and hospitals, and Medicare beneficiaries were less frequently readmitted to the hospital. The most pervasive improvements in health system performance occurred where policymakers and health system leaders created programs, incentives, or collaborations to ensure access to care and improve the quality and efficiency of care. For example, the decline in hospital readmissions accelerated after the federal government began levying financial penalties on hospitals that had high rates of readmissions and created hospital improvement innovation networks to help spread best practices. (notes)

Still, wide performance variation across states, as well as persistent disparities by race and economic status within states, are clear signals that our nation is a long way from offering everyone an equal opportunity for a long, healthy, and productive life. Looking forward, it is likely that states will be challenged to provide leadership on health policy as the federal government considers a new relationship with states in public financing of health care. To improve the health of their residents, states must find creative ways of addressing the causes of rising mortality rates while also working to strengthen primary and preventive care.




Health Care and the 2018 Midterms, Attitudes Towards Proposed Changes to Medicaid


  • Medicaid continues to be seen favorably by a majority of the public (74 percent) and about half (52 percent) believe the Medicaid program is working well for most low-income people covered by the program.
  • When asked about proposed changes to the Medicaid program, attitudes are largely driven by party identification. A large majority of Democrats (84 percent) and most independents (64 percent) oppose lifetime limits for Medicaid benefits, while Republicans are more divided in their views with half (51 percent) believing Medicaid should only be available for a limited amount of time.

    Poll: Public split on whether adding work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries aims at reducing spending (41%) or lifting people out of poverty (33%) 

  • Party identification also drives views on what individuals believe is the main reason behind some states imposing Medicaid work requirements. A larger share of Democrats and independents believe the main reason for these work requirements is to reduce government spending (42 percent and 45 percent, respectively) than believe it is to help lift people out of poverty (26 percent and 31 percent). On the other hand, a similar share of Republicans say it is to reduce government spending (40 percent) as say it is to help lift people out of poverty (42 percent). Individuals living in states pursuing Medicaid work requirements are also divided on the main reason for these limits, even when controlling for party identification.

    54% of the public now holds favorable views of the Affordable Care Act – the highest share in more than 80 tracking polls 

  • The February Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds a slight increase in the share of the public who say they have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), from 50 percent in January 2018 to 54 percent this month. This is the highest level of favorability of the ACA measured in more than 80 Kaiser Health Tracking Polls since 2010. This change is largely driven by independents, with more than half (55 percent) now saying they have a favorable opinion of the law compared to 48 percent last month. Large majorities (83 percent) of Democrats continue to view the law favorably (including six in ten who now say they hold a “very favorable” view, up from 48 percent last month) while nearly eight in ten Republicans (78 percent) view the law unfavorably (unchanged from last month).
  • The majority of the public are either unaware that the ACA’s individual mandate has been repealed (40 percent) or are aware that it has been repealed but incorrectly think the requirement is not in effect in 2018 (21 percent). Few (13 percent) are aware the requirement has been repealed but is still in effect for 2018.
  • More than twice as many voters mention health care costs (22 percent) as mention repealing/opposing the ACA (7 percent) as the top health care issue they most want to hear 2018 candidates discuss in their campaigns. Health care costs are the top issue mentioned by Democratic voters (16 percent) and independent voters (25 percent), as well as one of the top issues mentioned by Republican voters (22 percent), followed by repealing or opposing the ACA (17 percent).

2018 Midterm Elections

With still a few months until the midterm elections are in full swing, the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds health care costs as the top health care issue mentioned by voters when asked what they want to hear 2018 candidates discuss. When asked to say in their own words what health care issue they most want to hear the candidates talk about during their upcoming campaigns, one-fifth (22 percent) of registered voters mention health care costs. This is followed by a series of other health care issues, such as Medicare/senior concerns (8 percent), repealing or opposition to the Affordable Care Act (7 percent), improve how health care is delivered (7 percent), increasing access/decreasing the number of uninsured (6 percent), or a single-payer system (5 percent). Health care costs is the top issue mentioned by Democratic voters (16 percent) and independent voters (25 percent), as well as one of the top issues mentioned by Republican voters (22 percent), followed by repealing or opposing the ACA (17 percent).

Figure 1: Health Care Costs Are Top Health Care Issue Voters Want 2018 Candidates to Talk About During Their Campaigns

Battleground Voters

Health care costs are also the top issue mentioned by voters living where there are competitive House, Senate, or Governor races. One-fourth (23 percent) of voters in areas with competitive elections mention health care costs when asked what health care issue they most want to hear candidates talk about. Fewer mention other health care issues such as improve how health care is delivered (9 percent) or increasing access/decreasing the number of uninsured (6 percent).

2018 Midterm Election Analysis

As part of Kaiser Family Foundation’s effort to examine the role of health care in the 2018 midterm elections, throughout the year we will be tracking the views of voters – paying special attention to those living in states or congressional districts in which both parties have a viable path to win the election. This group, referred to in our analysis as “voters in battlegrounds” is defined by the 2018 Senate, House, and Governor ratings provided by The Cook Political Report. Congressional and Governor races categorized as “toss-up” were included in this group. A complete list of the states and congressional districts included in the comparison group is available in Appendix A.

The Affordable Care Act

This month’s Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds a slight increase in the share of the public who say they have a favorable view of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). The share of the public who say they hold a favorable view of the law has increased to 54 percent (from 50 percent in January 2018) while 42 percent currently say they hold an unfavorable view. This is the highest level of favorability of the ACA measured in more than 80 Kaiser Health Tracking Polls since 2010.  This change is largely driven by independents, with more than half (55 percent) now saying they have a favorable opinion of the law compared to 48 percent last month. Large majorities (83 percent) of Democrats continue to view the law favorably (including six in ten who now say they hold a “very favorable” view, up from 48 percent last month) while nearly eight in ten Republicans (78 percent) view the law unfavorably (unchanged from last month).

Figure 2: More of the Public Hold a Favorable View of the ACA

Public Awareness of the Repeal of the ACA’s Individual Mandate

The February Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds a slight uptick (from 36 percent in January 2018 to 41 percent this month) in the share of the public who are aware that the ACA’s requirement that nearly all individuals have health insurance or else pay a fine, known commonly as the individual mandate, has been repealed. Yet, misunderstandings persist. The majority of the public (61 percent) are either unaware that this requirement has been repealed (40 percent) or are aware that it has been repealed but incorrectly think the requirement is not in effect in 2018 (21 percent of total). Few (13 percent) are aware the requirement has been repealed but is still in effect for 2018.

Figure 3: Confusion Remains on the Status of the ACA’s Individual Mandate


In recent months, President Trump’s administration has supported state efforts to make changes to their Medicaid programs, the government health insurance and long-term care program for low-income adults and children. Seven in ten Americans say they have ever had a connection to the Medicaid program either directly through their own health insurance coverage (32 percent) or their child being covered by the program (9 percent), or indirectly through a friend or family member covered by the program (29 percent).

Figure 4: Seven in Ten Americans Say They Have Ever Had A Connection to Medicaid

Majority of the Public Holds Favorable Views of Medicaid and Thinks the Program is Working Well

Overall, the majority of the public (74 percent) holds favorable views of Medicaid, including four in ten who have a “very favorable” view. About one-fifth of the public (21 percent) hold unfavorable views of the program. Unlike attitudes towards the ACA, opinions towards Medicaid are not drastically different among partisans and majorities across parties report favorable views. However, a larger share of Republicans do hold unfavorable views (29 percent) compared to independents (21 percent) or Democrats (13 percent).

Figure 5: Large Shares Across Parties Say They Have a Favorable Opinion of Medicaid

In addition, more believe the program is working well than not working well for most low-income people covered by the program. This holds true across partisans with about half saying the Medicaid program is “working well” and about one-third saying it is “not working well.”

Figure 6: Larger Shares Say Medicaid Is Currently Working Well for Most Low-Income People Covered by the Program

Support for Medicaid Expansion in Non-Expansion States

One of the major changes brought on by the ACA was the option for states to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income people. As of February 2018, 18 states have not expanded their Medicaid programs.

Figure 7: Status of Medicaid Expansion Among States

Among individuals living in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs, most (56 percent) say they think their state should expand Medicaid to cover more low-income uninsured people while four in ten (37 percent) say their state should keep Medicaid as it is today. Slightly more than half of Republicans living in non-expansion states say their state should keep Medicaid as it is today (54 percent) while four in ten (39 percent) say their state should expand their Medicaid program. Majorities of Democrats (75 percent) and independents (57 percent) say their state should expand their Medicaid program.

Figure 8: Democrats and Independents Are More Likely to Want Their State to Expand Medicaid Than Republicans

Proposed Changes to Medicaid


In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provided new guidance for Section 1115 waivers, which would allow states to impose work requirements for individuals to be covered by Medicaid benefits. As of February 21, CMS has approved work requirement waivers in two states (KY and IN) and eight other states have pending requests.1 When asked what they think the reasoning is behind these proposed changes to Medicaid, a larger share of the public (41 percent) believe the main reason is to reduce government spending by limiting the number of people on the program than say the main reason is to help lift people out of poverty (33 percent). There are differences among demographic groups with a larger share of Democrats and independents believing the main reason is to reduce government spending, while Republicans are more divided with similar shares saying the main reason is to lift people out of poverty (42 percent) as reduce government spending (40 percent).

Figure 9: Republicans Are Divided on the Main Reason Behind the Trump Administration Permitting Work Requirements

There are also differences between individuals living in states that have either filed a Medicaid waiver for a work requirement or have had a waiver approved and those living in states that do not have Medicaid work requirement waivers pending or approved.2 Individuals living in states with pending or approved Medicaid work requirements are divided on whether the main reason for these limits is to lift people out of poverty (37 percent) or reduce government spending (36 percent). This holds true even when controlling for other demographic variables such as party identification and income that may influence beliefs.

Figure 10: Those in States with Medicaid Work Requirements Are Divided on the Main Reason Behind Them


In addition to work requirement waivers, five states are currently seeking waivers from the Trump administration to impose Medicaid coverage limits. These “lifetime limits” would cap Medicaid health care benefits for non-disabled adults. When asked how they think Medicaid should work, two-thirds of the public say Medicaid should be available to low-income people for as long as they qualify, without a time limit, while one-third say it should only be available to low-income people for a limited amount of time in order to provide temporary help. The vast majority of Democrats (84 percent) and most independents (64 percent) say Medicaid should be available without lifetime limits, while Republicans are divided with similar shares saying they favor time limits (51 percent) as saying they do not favor such limits (47 percent). Seven in ten (71 percent) of individuals who have ever had a connection to Medicaid say they do not support lifetime limits compared to three in ten (28 percent) who say it should only be available for a limited amount of time in order to provide temporary help.

Figure 11: Majorities of Democrats and Independents Say Medicaid Should Be Available Without a Time Limit; Republicans Are Divided



The ACA at Eight: Resilient but Still at Risk

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It’s Obamacare’s birthday. After eight years of relentless pounding, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is still the law of the land. Its resilience reflects the fundamental decency of the American people who — when faced with the reality of taking coverage away from millions of their neighbors — refused to let that happen. They filled town hall meetings, they flooded the corridors of Congress, and support for the law surged to its current 54 percent.

That is not to say that the law’s future is assured. As part of its recent tax reform legislation, Congress eliminated financial penalties for not having health insurance — the teeth of the so-called individual mandate. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that this will raise health insurance premiums in individual private markets by an average of 10 percent, and 13 million Americans could lose their health insurance. If Congress fails to enact recent bipartisan market stabilization proposals, these numbers could go even higher.

The current administration is also using executive authority to weaken the law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has encouraged states to impose a range of new restrictions on Medicaid recipients — work requirements, premiums, copays — that may reduce the number of poor and near-poor Americans who enroll in this program.

The administration has also proposed new rules that would allow health insurers to sell plans that evade the ACA’s standards regarding preexisting conditions and minimum benefits. For example, the administration would permit insurers to market short-term plans — coverage limited to a year in duration — without the requirement that they accept all comers, and with various restrictions on benefits. These cheaper, less generous plans would appeal to healthier individuals, who would then likely choose not to purchase the more expensive, comprehensive insurance sold in ACA marketplaces. Only sicker individuals would buy ACA plans, raising their costs and making them unaffordable to millions who have come to depend on them. The net effect is to add choices for healthy Americans, but reduce options for the sick.

Efforts to curtail the ACA will likely increase the number of Americans without insurance, now at a historic low of 14 percent of working-age adults, according to the Commonwealth Fund’s Affordable Care Act Tracking Survey. These efforts will also likely increase health disparities between states. A number of the restrictions sought by the administration will go into effect only if states embrace them. States must request waivers to limit Medicaid benefits. So far, only Republican-led states are doing so. Similarly, states have discretion about whether to permit the sale of short-term plans. Many blue states are considering banning or regulating them.

Despite these threats, however, fundamental elements of the ACA remain in effect. Federal financial assistance for purchase of health insurance in ACA marketplaces remains available for individuals with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. This is one reason why 11.8 million people had signed up for ACA plans through the marketplaces by the end of January. Federal support for states to expand Medicaid persists. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have done so, resulting in 15 million more beneficiaries of that program.

Recent legislative and executive restrictions on the ACA will not totally reverse these gains. Paradoxically, some states that refused previously to expand Medicaid may decide to do so now that they may be able to impose work requirements, premiums, and copays, and thus give expansion a conservative stamp. This could actually increase the total number of Americans with some Medicaid coverage.

In fact, the continuing struggle over the ACA fits a decades-old pattern of steady, if erratic, expansion of health insurance coverage in the United States. Since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid 53 years ago, the federal government has periodically extended insurance to new populations: the disabled, those with end-stage renal disease, children. The federal government also massively expanded Medicare benefits to cover drugs. Once provided, these benefits have proved politically difficult to peel back — in a recent poll, 92 percent of Americans said they felt all of us should have the right to health care.

What does this mean for the ACA? While it will not achieve all its supporters’ goals, it will survive, and provide a new foundation upon which Americans can build if they choose, as they have in the past, to help their vulnerable neighbors deal with the scourge of illness. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, one might even say that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward health coverage.


With Some Republican Support, Virginia Edges Closer To Medicaid Expansion

With Some Republican Support, Virginia Edges Closer To Medicaid Expansion

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Virginia is among 18 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. But this year, the state legislature is closer to enacting expansion than it has been in the past, and the issue will be the sticking point as the legislature goes into a special session next month to hash out its budget.

Republican Del. Barry Knight from the Virginia Beach area calls it “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” He’s one of more than a dozen Republicans who voted to include Medicaid expansion in the House budget — along with a work requirement — this year.

It’s a big shift in the House position on the issue and comes after 15 seats flipped to Democrats in the so-called blue wave of last November’s election, which also saw the election of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

“On the big-picture issues, I think it was a reawakening and a call to look at things from a different perspective,” said Republican Del. Chris Peace, from the Richmond area, who also voted in favor of expansion.

A December poll showed that over 80 percent of likely Virginia voters support an expansion.

“I think the House heard that message, loud and clear. I think the Senate still needs to listen a little bit,” Northam said.

The state Senate still has a strong bulwark against expansion, led by Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, who represents the Tidewater area in southeastern Virginia. Norment has come out against the House Republicans who want to expand. He reminds them that, despite a slim margin, Republicans are still in charge and could stop Medicaid expansion.

“I do think that the House of Delegates is waiting for that moment of lucidity and epiphany to realize that their majority is 51 to 49,” Norment said.

But opposition to President Donald Trump has energized Democratic voters, said Bob Holsworth, a former political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He said he thinks expansion has a greater chance this year.

It could pass in the Senate, he said, because of a potential wildcard: Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger, from mostly rural central Virginia. Hanger has expressed support for some form of Medicaid expansion, and has a track record of voting independently, said Holsworth.

“What Hanger has said that’s very interesting … is that if he decides to support some version of Medicaid expansion, he says, ‘There are a number of other Republicans who are going to go over with me,’” said Holsworth.

However, Hanger said he isn’t happy about a tax on hospitals that has been incorporated into the House’s budget to help pay for the state’s share of expansion costs. The tax accounts for about three-quarters of the over $400 million Medicaid-related gulf between House and Senate budgets.

If legislators don’t come up with a budget that includes Medicaid expansion, Northam has a Plan B. He said he’ll introduce an amendment to add it back into the budget. In the amendment process, the lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin Fairfax, gets a vote if the Senate ties. Fairfax said he’d be happy to vote to expand coverage to up to 400,000 low-income Virginians.

“There are so many people that we can help, and we have the means to do it if we expand Medicaid. We just have to have the political will to do it,” Fairfax said.

Medicaid expansion in Virginia would especially benefit low-income adults without children.

“An adult who does not have children can have zero income — can be totally impoverished — and they cannot get Medicaid,” said Jill Hanken with the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

And a family of three with a total income of about $10,000 doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, she said.

“It’s hard to explain to them that they don’t have a choice, they’re not eligible for Medicaid,” she said, and they’re not eligible for subsidies for insurance on the exchange, so health insurance is out of reach. “And the reason is because Virginia hasn’t expanded Medicaid,” she said.

The special session begins April 11. The state needs a budget agreement by June 30 to prevent a government shutdown.

Americans’ Views on Health Insurance at the End of a Turbulent Year

The Affordable Care Act’s 2018 open enrollment period came at the end of a turbulent year in health care. The Trump administration took several steps to weaken the ACA’s insurance marketplaces. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans engaged in a nine-month effort to repeal and replace the law’s coverage expansions and roll back Medicaid.

Nevertheless, 11.8 million people had selected plans through the marketplaces by the end of January, about 3.7 percent fewer than the prior year.1 There was an overall increase in enrollment this year in states that run their own marketplaces and a decrease in those states that rely on the federal marketplace.

To gauge the perspectives of Americans on the marketplaces, Medicaid, and other health insurance issues, the Commonwealth Fund Affordable Care Act Tracking Survey interviewed a random, nationally representative sample of 2,410 adults ages 19 to 64 between November 2 and December 27, 2017, including 541 people who have marketplace or Medicaid coverage. The findings are compared to prior ACA tracking surveys, the most recent of which was fielded between March and June 2017. The survey research firm SSRS conducted the survey, which has an overall margin of error is +/– 2.7 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. See How We Conducted This Study to learn more about the survey methods.


Adults were asked about:

  • INSURANCE COVERAGE 14 percent of working age adults were uninsured at the end of 2017, unchanged from March–June 2017.
  • AWARENESS OF THE MARKETPLACES 35 percent of uninsured adults were not aware of the marketplaces.
  • REASONS FOR NOT GETTING COVERED Among uninsured adults who were aware of the marketplaces but did not plan to visit them, 71 percent said they didn’t think they could afford health insurance, while 23 percent thought the ACA was going to be repealed.
  • CONFIDENCE ABOUT STAYING COVERED About three in 10 people with marketplace coverage or Medicaid said they were not confident they would be able to keep their coverage in the future. Of those, 47 percent said they felt this way because either the Trump administration would not carry out the law (32%) or Congress would repeal it (15%).
  • SHOULD AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE BE A RIGHT? 92 percent of working-age adults think that all Americans should have the right to affordable health care, including 99 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of Republicans, and 92 percent of independents.