Earlier today, Community Catalyst joined 118 groups representing consumers, people of faith, and health care providers in 34 states to raise our collective voices in support of Medicaid.

Together, we sent a response to the letter that Senator Hatch and Congressman Upton wrote to Governors last month. Their letter attacked Medicaid, falsely claiming that it provides poor quality care, lamenting its enrollment growth over the past decade, and blaming it for federal and state budget crises. Our letter sets the record straight:

• Medicaid provides high-quality care that is uniquely suited to meet the needs of the vulnerable Americans it serves. Medicaid is certainly not perfect, and there is always room to improve care. But studies consistently show that Medicaid beneficiaries get care that is equal to – and sometimes better than – the care they would get in private coverage. Just yesterday a new study was released documenting the positive impact Medicaid has on its vulnerable beneficiaries’ health and financial security.

• Medicaid plays an essential role in reducing the number of uninsured. Of the 46 million low-income children and parents that rely on Medicaid, the majority are in working families without access to private coverage. Policies that scale back on Medicaid eligibility for this population – like those promoted by Senator Hatch – would drive up the ranks of the uninsured, leaving vulnerable Americans without access to the health care they need.

• Medicaid is markedly more cost-effective than private coverage. If the low-income children and parents on Medicaid were insured instead on the private market, national health care expenditures would be significantly higher.

We felt particularly compelled to respond because Hatch and Upton’s letter perpetuates a larger anti-Medicaid narrative that would:

• Reduce the deficit on the backs of those with least political clout. Responding to their mandate from the tea-party, Republican Congressional leaders are insisting on trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for their votes to lift the debt-ceiling (a vote Congress must take in early August to avoid going into default on our nation’s debt). It’s nearly impossible to achieve that level of savings without making devastating cuts in the “big three” entitlements that take up 40 percent of the federal budget: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But Social Security and Medicare are fiercely guarded by a well-organized political constituency – seniors – which makes cuts in those programs politically unpalatable. That leaves Medicaid, which serves a much more vulnerable and less politically empowered population, as the sacrificial lamb.

• Undermine the Affordable Care Act. The attacks against Medicaid also play into a second tea-party-driven agenda to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA.) Since Congressional Republicans don’t have the votes for repeal, they’re trying the next-best approach: weakening the law’s foundations. Medicaid accounts for nearly half of the coverage gains expected under national health reform, so inflicting dramatic cuts on the program would jeopardize the ACA before its even been implemented.

But Medicaid is not a political chit. It’s a lifeline for millions. It provides long-term care to our nations’ seniors, enables people with disabilities to get the care they need to live independently and helps low-income children see the doctor when they’re sick.

The 118 consumer, faith-based and provider organizations from across the country who signed onto our letter know the value of Medicaid in their communities and why it’s worth protecting. And polls show that the overwhelming majority of the American public does too. Is Congress listening?

-Katherine Howitt, Policy Analyst