June 29, 2005

Medicaid cuts opposed despite budget woes – survey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A majority of Americans opposebudget cuts to Medicaid, calling the state-federal low-incomehealth care program "very important," according to a newnational survey released on Wednesday.

Medicaid remains well regarded by the public 40 years afterits creation despite criticism that spiraling costs have earnedit a reputation as a "Pac Man" program that eats up statebudgets, the Kaiser Family Foundation said.

The foundation's survey of 1,201 American adults found that74 percent said funding for Medicaid is "very important." Anidentical percentage said the same for federal aid to publicschools, while Social Security and Medicare topped the list ofgovernment spending significance, with 88 percent and 83percent respectively.

"Americans hold a pretty positive view of this program,"said Mollyann Brodie, lead researcher and vice president at theKaiser Family Foundation.

Medicaid received public support even though nearlytwo-thirds of survey respondents viewed their state budgets asfacing serious problems and more than one-third believeMedicaid is a major cause for the financial strain.

In fiscal year 2003, Federal and state Medicaid spendingtotaled $276 billion and provided services to some 54 millionlow-income people, according to the Government AccountabilityOffice. Seventy-four percent of Americans somewhat or stronglyoppose Medicaid cutbacks, while 22 percent somewhat or stronglysupport reductions.

"I think that shows us that the public views healthcaregenerally as something that the public needs," said DianeRowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Foundation. "Ido know that the people with more Medicaid experience were moreworried about cuts."

More than half of Americans have had some interaction withMedicaid, whether personally or through a family member or afriend, the survey found.

On average, a family of four is considered low-income if itmakes below $40,000 annually, Rowland said. Children make upthe largest group of enrollees, even though most of the aidgoes to elderly recipients.

Brodie said one possible reason for the program's positivereputation is that it has avoided the negative views and socialstigma often associated with cash welfare programs.