50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the amendments to Social Security, establishing Medicaid and Medicare. Today, more than 95 million Americans depend on these two programs for health insurance coverage.
The expansion of Medicaid and Medicare has made a significant difference in Americans’ access to health care. In Washington, D.C., 24 percent of residents are enrolled in Medicaid alone – a greater percentage than in any other state.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more than half the states have expanded eligibility for Medicaid, and in these states, “enrollment has far surpassed expectations, evidently because state officials underestimated the demand.” And Congress is not blind to this need. In letters to the 19 state governors whose states have yet to expand eligibility, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) stressed the importance of adopting the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. As found in a report by Alliance for a Just Society, Senators Brown and Kaine write that “states’ decisions to accept or reject Medicaid expansion was the single most important factor in whether residents in low-income communities and communities of color were able to obtain health insurance.”
Even with the expanded eligibility of Medicaid and Medicare today as compared to 50 years ago, there is still much work to be done in order to ensure that eligible elderly, disabled, and low-income residents are actually able to access adequate health care services. Legal Aid works tirelessly on multiple fronts to make access to health care a reality for the District’s residents in greatest need.
Every year, Legal Aid’s Public Benefits attorneys organize teams of lawyers who volunteer to go into the community to help low-income residents navigate the complex Medicare Part D drug benefit program. These teams help D.C. residents evaluate their ever-changing insurance plans to ensure they are enrolled in the plan that best covers their prescription needs, resulting in coverage for hundreds of individuals each year.
Legal Aid has also worked closely with local D.C. government agencies to ensure that the ACA is implemented humanely and sensibly in the District. Earlier this spring, Legal Aid delivered joint testimony with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute on the problems plaguing service delivery by the Economic Security Administration (ESA), where D.C. residents must go to access benefits like Medicaid.
In light of Medicaid and Medicare’s golden anniversary, Legal Aid recognizes the continued necessity of these programs and remains committed to ensuring that vulnerable District residents can access the benefits and health coverage upon which they and their families depend.