The Politics of Medicaid: Most Americans Are Connected to the Program, Support Its Expansion, and Do Not View It as Stigmatizing

Original Investigation

Policy Points:

  • More than half of Americans are connected to the Medicaid program—either through their own coverage or that of a family member or close friend—and are significantly more likely to view Medicaid as important and to support increases in spending, even among conservatives. This finding helps explain why Affordable Care Act repeal efforts faced (and will continue to face) strong public backlash.
  • Policymakers should be aware that although renaming programs within Medicaid may have increased enrollment take-up, this destigmatization effort might have also increased program confusion and reduced support for Medicaid even among enrollees who say the program is important to them.

Context: Since the 1980s, Medicaid enrollment has expanded so dramatically that by 2015 two-thirds of Americans had some connection to the program in which either they themselves, a family member, or a close friend is currently or was previously enrolled.

Methods: Utilizing a nationally representative survey—the Kaiser Family Foundation Poll: Medicare and Medicaid at 50 (n = 1,849)—and employing ordinal and logistic regression analyses, our study examines 3 questions: (1) are individuals with a connection to Medicaid more likely to view the program as important, (2) are they more likely to support an increase in Medicaid spending, and (3) are they more likely to support adoption of the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act? For each of these questions we examine whether partisanship and views of stigma also impact support for Medicaid and, if so, whether these factors overwhelm the impact of connection to the program.

Findings: Controlling for the strong effect of partisanship, people with any connection to the Medicaid program are more likely to view the program as important than those with no connection. However, when it comes to increasing spending or expanding the program, the type of connection to the program matters. In particular, adults with current and previous Medicaid coverage and those with a family member or close friend with Medicaid coverage are more likely to support increases in spending and the Medicaid expansion; but, those connected to Medicaid only through coverage of a child are no more likely to support Medicaid than those with no connection.

Conclusions: Future research should probe more deeply into whether people with different types of connection to Medicaid view the program differently, and, if so, how and why. Moreover, future research should also explore whether state-level attempts to destigmatize Medicaid by renaming the program also serves to reduce knowledge and support for Medicaid.

Keywords: Medicaid, stigma, public opinion, partisanship, policy feedback effects.

Read on Wiley Online Library

Volume 95, Issue 4 (pages 749-782)
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12298
Published in 2017