By LAWRENCE M. O'ROURKE
June 30, 2005
About three-fourths of Americans oppose cuts in Medicaid as a step toward balancing state budgets, according to the poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"The poll shows that Americans across the political spectrum value the role Medicaid plays in our health care system," said Diane Rowland, executive director of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured.
One-fourth of Americans prefer cuts in education, prisons and transportation before trimming Medicaid, the poll showed.
Mollyann Brodie, Kaiser's director of public opinion research, said that 21 percent of those surveyed preferred tax increases to Medicaid cuts. Brodie said the public's main concern about health is high costs.
Her comments came as congressional committees took initial steps toward likely rollbacks in federal spending on Medicaid proposed by President Bush. Congress is also looking for new ways to limit fraud and abuse in Medicaid, including the transfer of assets within families to make aging parents eligible for government-paid nursing home care.
Medicaid, which will mark its 40th anniversary on July 30, is the nation's major health insurance program for low-income Americans, currently serving more than 52 million people.
In 2003, the federal government financed 57 percent of the $266 billion in total Medicaid spending. It covered 25 million children, 14 million parents, 5 million senior citizens and 8 million persons with disabilities.
Nearly 70 percent of Medicaid spending is on the elderly, including nursing home care, and on persons with disabilities.
Governors and state legislators have responded that cuts would force them to reduce the number of poor people eligible for Medicaid or reduce available services, or both.
In the survey, voters offered different views on the various proposals to cut Medicaid spending. About 40 percent favored such steps as lowering the amount Medicaid pays for doctor and hospital fees and prescription drugs, reducing the number of people who qualify for Medicaid, and increasing co-payments and deductibles that Medicaid beneficiaries pay for doctor visits.
Many states have taken steps to trim spending by narrowing the list of drugs that Medicaid will pay for, but the survey showed that 65 percent disagreed with this option.
Rowland said that state officials looking for budget relief when the federal Medicare prescription drug coverage begins on Jan. 1 would be disappointed.
Kaiser said results were based on a telephone survey of 1,201 respondents in April by Princeton Survey Research Associates.
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