Millions of people are piling into Medicaid for health coverage, driving home just how feeble the nation's economy remains.
Almost 3.3 million more people received health coverage under Medicaid during the year that ended last June, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation's Commission on Medicaid. That's the biggest annual jump in the number of people added to the rolls of the health program for the poor, and it represents a 7.5 percent increase from the previous year.
States and the federal government share the expense of Medicaid. The sharp increase in enrollment in the program comes at the same time state budgets are being slammed by the sluggish economy.
So governors across the country are scrambling to make ends meet by cutting Medicaid benefits where they can, the New York Times reports. But their choices are hamstrung by legal restrictions on where Medicaid can be trimmed and worries that further cuts in payments to doctors would lead even more of them to stop seeing Medicaid patients.
If the administration's plans for health overhaul pan out after all, millions more people would be added to the Medicaid.
Even if health overhaul remains stalled, the number of people in Medicaid is likely to keep growing fast, Kaiser said. The bulk of the increase in the most recent year—2.1 million people— took place between Dec. 2008 and June 2009. Past experience with economic downturns suggests "even stronger enrollement growth" during the latter half of 2009.