President Joe Biden has done a masterful job in drawing the line with Republicans: He will not negotiate Social Security and Medicare with them—period. It’s truly been a thing of beauty, and a tremendous relief for all us lefties who still have memories of how he chose to be bipartisan and undercut then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was on the brink of victory in raising taxes on the super-rich back during the Obama administration. Biden learned some critical lessons in that, the most important being: Don’t trust a Republican.
So we’re good on Social Security and Medicare. The problem is that he left Medicaid out of the equation. The combined federal/state health program has been a lifeline for millions—about 90 million people right now—and it’s always vulnerable to Republicans bent on making life that much harder for people with low incomes.
The Republican Study Group, the only group of GOPers in the House to have any kind of plan for a budget so far, have a blueprint for a budget that would both restructure the program, turning it into a limited block grant, but would halve its funding over the next decade. That’s led to no small amount of speculation about the future of the program.
Enter Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who told Huffpost this week the Senate Democrats will not bargain it away, to any extent, in the standoff over the debt limit.
“It’s a very popular program and we will defend it. We don’t think any cuts on Medicaid, just like cuts on Medicare and Social Security, should be attached to debt ceiling brinksmanship,” Schumer said in a Wednesday press conference.
That’s the first explicit promise from Democratic leadership on Medicaid specifically, though the Biden administration has been aggressive in expanding the program. His COVID-19 relief package brought millions into the program, and he expanded and extended coverage for new populations, including extending care for new mothers. But he also started looking at Medicaid more holistically, in how it could help with food and housing services to keep people healthy.
The administration started approving state requests for waivers that would also allow Medicaid enrollees to pay for groceries and nutritional counseling. Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Oregon recently received approval from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) last year to use a portion of their Medicaid funds to pay for food programs. That could include providing medically designed meal programs, short term food assistance with a focus on healthy foods, nutrition and cooking classes, and plain old food security.
Biden has also continued to work to convince the last holdout Republican states that haven’t accepted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act to just finally do it. “Over 1.1 million people in Florida would be eligible for Medicaid if Governor DeSantis just said I agree to expand it. This isn’t calculus,” Biden said last week when he in was in Florida. “The only reason that [Medicaid] expansion hasn’t happened here is because of politics,” he said. “It’s time to get this done.”
His commitment to the program seems clear, and the endorsement it just got from Schumer is encouraging. Because it’s not just going to be a fight to keep the GOP’s grubby mitts off of it in this budget fight: It’s going to be a fight to make sure Medicaid can keep covering the needs of the millions of people who need it.
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.