July 2, 2018

With Medicaid under siege, CHA trumpets program’s critical importance

Millions of people who rely on Medicaid for their care including many with complex medical needs could lose their coverage if the program’s opponents have their way. By telling the stories of people who have benefitted from Medicaid, CHA hopes to grow public support for the insurance program and stave off threats to its reach and solvency.

That is the impetus behind the “Medicaid Makes It Possible” campaign that CHA debuted June 10 at the Catholic Health Assembly here. Through a website, videos, social media push and other resources and activities that the association introduced at the gathering, it hopes to break through false stereotypes and illustrate that people of all ages and circumstances could be harmed by cuts to the Medicaid program.

The program is crucial to ministry systems’ ability to provide high-quality and affordable care, Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, CHA’s president and chief executive officer, told the 900-plus health ministry leaders attending the three-day annual meeting.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This spring, the Virginia legislature moved to expand Medicaid beginning Jan. 1. While repeated efforts in the U.S. Congress last year failed to carry through on a campaign promise by President Donald Trump to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, significant regulatory and funding threats to the Medicaid program still loom large.

“All that we have advocated for to expand health care coverage as a basic human right has been under siege,” CHA board chair Michael A. Slubowski told the assembly. He said that ACA opponents are attempting to inflict “death by 1,000 cuts.” The CHA board believes mounting a defense of Medicaid should be the signature focus of the association this year. The unified voice of the ministry must be heard “loud and clear on this issue,” he said. Slubowski is president and chief operating officer of Trinity Health.

During the “Washington Update” breakout session, CHA advocacy staff explained that while some of the assaults on Medicaid have been in the form of proposed bills, the ACA also has been weakened by the Trump administration’s refusal to defend parts of the act in court.

Several states have received or are seeking regulatory waivers imposing work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries, lifetime limits on eligibility and other restrictions on participation. CHA has released a white paper explaining how such waivers could force needy and vulnerable individuals to lose their coverage. It offers arguments for reducing barriers to access. The white paper is available through links found on the association’s campaign hub:  chausa.org/Medicaid.

Outgoing CHA board chair Dr. Rod Hochman, president and chief executive officer of  Providence St. Joseph Health, told assembly attendees that following a massive federal tax cut that Republicans passed in December, they are looking for places to make significant cuts in spending. Medicaid is an attractive target for them, he said.

“We will need to double down on our efforts, and we can’t do it without you,” he told the audience. “We need all of you to help advocate for the people who don’t have a voice out there.”

Story gathering
In unveiling the Medicaid advocacy campaign, Sr. Carol voiced its central theme: “Medicaid makes it possible for children, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, veterans and working families from across the United Stated to access high-quality, affordable health care services.

“We ask that you share your stories of how Medicaid makes it possible for those you serve to be healthy and productive members of your community,” she said.

CHA is collecting and sharing those stories on its Medicaid web page. Members of the public can share their stories, too. CHA staff may follow up with some of those submitting stories in order to include those experiences in national campaign materials.

“Ours is a passionate voice for compassionate care when we raise it collectively — and we need to all be heard in unison today to protect Medicaid,” Sr. Carol said.

Rallying cry
Hers was a rallying cry echoed throughout the three-day meeting. Multiple session presenters, ministry executives, association trustees and others urged members of the ministry to educate and advocate to preserve Medicaid.

Assembly attendees received campaign fact sheets and Medicaid Makes It Possible lapel buttons. Campaign materials and videos are available on the CHA Medicaid web page.

The nationwide campaign builds on an initiative from Providence St. Joseph Health of Renton, Wash. (See story, below.) CHA’s nationwide campaign includes the personal experiences of people who are — or who have been — insured under Medicaid, the perspectives of their health care providers as well as national and state statistics on the Medicaid program.

The association is engaging the Catholic health ministry and strategic partners in the campaign through emails, advocacy notifications, social media, apps and other outreach. The Twitter hashtag for the campaign is #MedicaidPossible.

In the coming months, CHA will provide ministry members with a tool kit for additional advocacy outreach.

Faces behind the numbers
A key goal of the campaign is to dispel harmful misconceptions about Medicaid. In the main campaign video, Dr. Dawn Walton of  Holy Cross Healthin Silver Spring, Md., says, “People think often that Medicaid is just for people who are unemployed or not working and other things, but they don’t realize that the Medicaid system reaches out to families who are working, who may not have access to insurance or appropriate insurance for their children and their families. And being able to have that available is incredible for these families.” Among adults insured by Medicaid, nearly eight in 10 live in working families, according to statistics shared through the campaign.

The campaign also spotlights statistics that show how critical the program is to vulnerable populations. For instance, 62 percent of nursing home residents are insured by Medicaid, 39 percent of children are covered by Medicaid and nearly half of all births in the U.S. are paid for by the insurance program.

Campaign videos put faces to such statistics, including through the story of Emily Nienaber, a teacher who recently delivered her son at Mercy Hospital St. Louis at just 27 weeks’ gestation due to a placental abruption. The premature infant required intensive care. A social worker told Nienaber and her husband they could apply for Medicaid due to their son’s low birth weight. It was, she says, a “huge sigh of relief for us, knowing that we had that to help pay for copays and supplemental insurance.”

CHA salted the assembly program with several short Medicaid campaign videos. The people featured in the videos relate how critically important health insurance has been to the well-being of their families — and some wonder what they would have done without it during periods of economic hardship.

Additional videos will be posted to build momentum for the campaign this fall. CHA invites members and the public to share stories about what “Medicaid Makes Possible” for patients, families, and the community at  chausa.org/Medicaid and #MedicaidPossible.