Medicaid Is the Most Widely Used Benefit Program in Existence

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Aaron Carroll points me to this surprising result from a new Kaiser survey:

Is it really true that 71 percent of Republicans think it’s important to keep ACA’s Medicaid expansion? Yes it is, though with less intensity than Democrats and Independents. Is it because they’re confused and think this is about Medicare? Nope. The question explicitly starts out, “Now thinking specifically about Medicaid, the program for certain low-income adults and children…”

The answer probably lies here:

Even among Republicans, nearly half say Medicaid is personally important to their family. If that’s the case, it’s not really surprising that 71 percent support Medicaid expansion. That includes all the Republicans who think it’s personally important plus another sizeable chunk who have one or more friends who depend on it. (Plus, presumably, some who are unaffected by Medicaid but support it out of ordinary human decency anyway.)

These numbers may seem surprisingly high, but they’re really not. In the Kaiser poll, among all party IDs, 58 percent say that Medicaid is personally important to them and their families. In the US there are, roughly speaking:

  • 68 million Medicaid enrollees
  • 85 million families

If, say, there are 35 million families with one Medicaid enrollee; 10 million with two; and 4 million with three or more; that’s a total of 68 million Medicaid enrollees spread out among 49 million families. And that’s 58 percent of all families.

It’s a big number because Medicaid is the most widely used major benefit program in existence.1 Most people don’t know this.

1I think. It’s more widely used than Social Security (61 million), Medicare (55 million), food stamps (44 million), unemployment insurance (6 million at the height of the recession), the home mortgage deduction (about 60 million), 401(k) plans (about 52 million), IRAs (about 60 million), EITC (26 million), and TANF (about 4 million). Am I missing any major programs?

There is one fly in this ointment: employer health insurance. About 155 million people receive medical coverage through their employers, and they all benefit from the tax advantages of employer health plans. If you count this, then Medicaid is only the second most widely-used benefit program.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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