Still giddy about their political victory in the special congressional election in upstate New York, Democrats have resolved to put the GOP plan to phase out Medicare at the heart of their 2012 election strategy. But they may have more to thank Rep. Paul Ryan for. Though the Medicare provision in Ryan's budget, which has been embraced by House and Senate Republicans, has dominated headlines, his plan to roll back Medicaid dramatically is another essential element of the GOP budget, and a new poll has found that Americans are loath to support this effort to gut Medicaid. As NPR's Julie Rovner explains:
This month's health tracking poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds that only 13 percent of those polled support major reductions in Medicaid spending as part of congressional efforts to reduce the deficit. At the same time, 60 percent want to keep Medicaid as it is…
Perhaps even more striking, although maybe it shouldn't be given how much Medicaid has grown in recent years, is that more than half of respondents said they had a personal connection to the Medicaid program. That was defined as the respondent or a friend or family member having received assistance from the program at some point.
Medicaid has often been characterized as a program for the very poor, yet the economic downturn has put a record number of Americans into the program. What's more, senior citizens also receive a big proportion of Medicaid dollars through nursing homes, as even middle-class Americans have resorted to the program as their savings have run out. Medicaid is serving a larger and more diverse group of Americans than before, making the GOP proposal to eviscerate the program all the more unpopular—and politically dangerous for the Republicans.