Op-Ed: Federal insurance and Obamacare: Why this birthday matters

Imagine parents having twins and each year celebrating the birthday of only one. Rough, huh? But that is exactly what America has done every July 30 since 1964, the day Medicare and Medicaid were born.

These vital programs are now 49 years old… a nd one, Medicare, has received far more policymaker love than Medicaid

Op-ed submit bugMedicare provides health care coverage mostly to senior citizens; Medicaid to the poor and underprivileged.  By 2020 there are expected to be more people enrolled in Medicaid than Medicare. Therefore it is a serious problem that on average across all 50 states, Medicaid in 2012 paid providers about two thirds of what Medicare reimbursed for comparable services.

This pay disparity made it hard for Medicaid patients to find a new doctor, whether a primary care physician or a needed specialist.  The problem hasn’t gone away, but it has been partially addressed.

As of January 2013, the Affordable Care Act increased Medicaid reimbursements to match those of Medicare for primary care services.  This was a terrific move that expanded access to primary health care for millions.

What most people don’t realize is that this pay parity provision will expire at the end of 2014 unless Congress acts to extend it.

For the health of our nation, and for the five million people newly insured under Medicaid, let’s encourage all members of Congress, with the chance for the Connecticut delegation to lead this charge, to maintain and more broadly guarantee equality between Medicare and Medicaid payments to providers.

Poor and underprivileged citizens covered by Medicaid do not have the same political influence as senior citizens covered by Medicare. They should, however, have the same right to timely, quality and affordable healthcare.

Dr. Doug Olson (@DoctorOlson) is a primary care doctor and a member of both the National Physicians Alliance and American College of Physicians.

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