“As a Nation, [Americans] want, they need, and they can afford the best of health…for all our citizens, old and young, rich and poor.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson in a Special Message to the Congress on the Nation’s Health (Feb. 10, 1964)

Because we live at a time when social programs are so frequently under attack by our legislators and politicians, we often focus all our attention on the efforts of our opponents to fundamentally change and dismantle Medicaid. This month—marking the 54th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing Medicaid into law through the Social Security Amendments of 1965—we take the opportunity to celebrate all that Medicaid has done to help Americans live healthy and prosperous lives.

Medicaid has provided generations of low-income individuals and families with high-quality health insurance, affording them access to essential medical care. 73 million Americans receive their health care coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), receiving a vital lifeline to individuals born into difficult socioeconomic circumstances or in moments of need—particularly for children, older adults, people of color and those living with disabilities.

Medicaid eliminates catastrophic out-of-pocket medical costs and lifts millions of American individuals and families out of poverty. Medicaid helps control skyrocketing medical costs due to market forces and gives low-income Americans access to cost-effective primary and preventive care. It also supports providers, hospitals and whole communities, especially in rural areas across the nation.

Medicaid remains one of our best investments in America’s future. Research has shown enrollment in the program improves school attendance, high school graduation and college enrollment. Medicaid-eligible children will even earn more income and require less medical care in adulthood. Through Medicaid, we can stimulate economic growth and create jobs through well-targeted investment.

In just the last year, research has illuminated new ways Medicaid promotes healthy and successful lives. Medicaid leads to earlier cancer screening and detection for breast, colorectal and cervical cancers. Lower cardiovascular mortality has recently been associated with expanding Medicaid—along with higher employment rates for people with disabilities, a reduction in child neglect, improved access to family planning services, increased odds of quitting tobacco, reduced food insecurity, mitigated health disparities between white and black infants and fewer deaths due to substance abuse.

In the past year, we witnessed many significant Medicaid wins. Virginia and Maine officially implemented Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act, closing the coverage gap for hundreds of thousands. Because of the overwhelming 74% favorability—even 61% among Republicans—Idaho, Nebraska and Utah were all able to pass commitments to do the same through popular 2018 ballot initiatives.

Over a half century later, Medicaid has surpassed goals of improving health for economically vulnerable Americans. Medicaid ensures a healthy America by investing in its people and affording every American an opportunity to succeed. We must continue to fight for the program and remind our representatives and the public of the need to support and defend Medicaid’s legacy.

Happy Birthday, Medicaid!

Blog Author: Max Weiss, Intern, Together For Medicaid