As the fight to close the coverage gap continues in 23 states, critics are openly questioning the value of Medicaid and even claiming that it is not better than being uninsured. But recent data unsurprisingly reveals that potential low-income beneficiaries do not quite see it that way.

While we already know that strong empirical evidence confirms Medicaid’s effectiveness at improving access to care, health outcomes, and financial security for its beneficiaries, this recent study provides a fresh perspective that too often gets lost in the politically-charged policy sphere: consumers’ actual experience and perceptions of Medicaid. The study surveyed low-income adults from three southern states who are either Medicaid beneficiaries or would be eligible for Medicaid coverage if their state closed the gap.

According to the study, 80 percent of respondents supported closing the coverage gap and covering more people through the Medicaid program. Between Medicaid and private insurance, the latter had an edge in being able to see the “doctors you want, without having to wait too long.” However, Medicaid ranked higher in enabling beneficiaries to “be able to afford the health care you need,” and on the overall question of “quality of health care” (see Figure 1).

<p style=Source: Authors’ analysis of survey data of 2,864 low-income adults (ages 19–64) in Texas, Arkansas, and Kentucky. Health Affairs, October 2014.

When comparing Medicaid with no insurance, more than 90 percent of respondents favored Medicaid across the board in quality, affordability, and being able to access a doctor that respects his/her patients. The study also reveals that despite how much they stand to gain from Medicaid, most low-income people are unaware or misinformed whether or not their state has closed the gap. Thus, while consumers favor improved Medicaid coverage, they are marginalized in the very policy discussions that will impact their health and lives. This discrepancy underscores the critical role that health care reform advocates continue to play in elevating the consumer voice, and particularly the voices of the most vulnerable among us, for improving their access and experience of health care.