Fifty years ago this week Medicaid and Medicare were signed into law. These two programs provide children, seniors, people living with disabilities and working families with access to the health care they need. To celebrate 50 years of these two programs, each day this week one of our partners will share a story about their work to ensure more people can access Medicaid. We’ll also be reflecting on the two programs and what’s ahead. 

On Medicaid’s 50th anniversary, it’s worth a look back at how the biggest expansion in the program’s history has helped Coloradans.

In Colorado, we place a lot of value on common-sense solutions that make our residents healthier while being fiscally responsible. That’s why we accepted federal funds to cover more Coloradans with bipartisan support in the state legislature and with a broad coalition of consumers, businesses, and the health care industry.

It turns out, that sort of collaboration pays off.

Since the state closed the coverage gap and expanded the Medicaid program in January 2014, more than 400,000 Coloradans got covered through Medicaid, meaning they can now get the low cost care they need to stay healthy.

A new report from the State Health Reform Assistance Network shows, perhaps surprisingly, that expanding coverage to so many people has actually saved the state money. In 2014, alone, we saved $147 million, and we are on track to save an additional $160 million this year. Those savings are right in line with projections from a 2013 report by the Colorado Health Foundation issued during the debate in Colorado.

Accepting the federal funds was a good deal for Colorado because federal dollars cover 100 percent of the cost of new enrollees, as well as some current enrollees, for the first few years. It has also reduced Colorado’s tab on non-Medicaid costs, such as hospitalizations for prison inmates, to the tune of $10 million per year. Of course, spending fewer state dollars on health care also frees up needed cash for other priorities, and these realized savings can be channeled to other critical investments like education and transportation.

According to the head of the state’s Medicaid department, average costs per enrollee have declined 9 percent in recent years. The data show we’re getting a better bang for our buck in Colorado. That’s due in part to innovative approaches like care coordination to achieve better quality care. It’s also due to the fact so many newly enrolled consumers are younger folks who tend to use less medical care. In 2015, 25 percent of new Medicaid enrollees are kids under 18, and another 35 percent are young adults between the ages of 18 – 34.

Since 2013, we’ve gone from approximately 700,000 Coloradans covered to more than 1.1 million. These Coloradans can finally access care they haven’t received for years, and they can have the peace of mind they need to focus on the many other competing priorities in life – paying rent, finishing college, getting the kids off to school and helping with their homework, performing well at work, and all the rest.

Impact to the State’s Economy

This is all great news for the Coloradans who now have coverage. It’s good for our budget and taxpayers. And it’s also good news for the Colorado economy.

The 2013 report by The Colorado Health Foundation estimated that Medicaid expansion would add 14,357 jobs, primarily in health care, and $2.04 billion to Colorado’s GDP by June 2015. While the direct impact of Medicaid expansion in Colorado has not yet been analyzed, we have seen over 89,000 jobs created in the state since access to Medicaid coverage increased in January 2014. Some 21,000 of those jobs were in the education and health services sector, leading the state in job growth.

As we reflect on Medicaid’s 50th anniversary, we should be proud of the progress we’ve made together. After all, hardworking Coloradans deserve health care they can count on.

Ryan Biehle
Policy & Legislative Associate
Colorado Consumer Health Initiative