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Medicaid Stars In New Obama Campaign Ad

At last, Medicaid is getting some respect.

Medicaid, not Medicare, is the subject a new television campaign advertisement for President Barack Obama (above).

The 30-second ad is being broadcast in five election battleground states — Colorado, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa and Ohio. It accuses GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney of supporting the plan passed by the GOP-led House of Representatives that cuts $800 billion from Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled, over the next 10 years.  The voiceover warns, “middle class families rely on Medicaid to help loved ones cover nursing-home care. And it helps parents support children with disabilities.”

After scenes of an elderly person in a nursing home bed and worried parents talking, the ad ends with this line: “If Mitt Romney really cares, wouldn’t we see it in his priorities?”

While Medicare has been the subject of television ads from both the Obama and Romney campaigns — this is the first time this year Medicaid has taken center stage in an ad.

The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Is the ad true?

The Romney campaign has said his plan would slow the growth of Medicaid to save $100 billion a year beginning in 2016. Romney has expressed support for the House-approved plan that would turn Medicaid into a block grant program, giving states $800 billion less over 10 years but more freedom to change benefits and eligibility. Today, Medicaid is an open-ended entitlement program in which the federal government matches state spending on health insurance. Match rates range from 50 percent to 73 percent, depending on a state’s per capita income, with poorer states receiving higher rates. The average federal match is 57 percent.

While Medicaid is mostly known as program that provides health coverage to the poor, about two-thirds of its dollars are spent on the elderly and disabled, according to The Kaiser Family Foundation.  Yet, children from low-income households, their parents and pregnant women make up about make up about three-quarters of the 62 million people enrolled in the program. (KHN is an editorially independent project of the foundation.)

“The campaign ad is apparently trying here to appeal to the immediate concerns of middle class voters, who may not know the degree to which Medicaid actually benefits them, as the political debate focuses so often on Medicaid as a program for ‘the poor,'” said Donna Friedsam, health policy programs director at the University of Wisconsin.

Under the 2010 health care law, Medicaid, starting in 2014, would expand to cover as many as 17 million more people. The expansion is optional for states.

Len Nichols, director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and a former Clinton administration official, noted that “many middle class families end up with grandparents on Medicaid.” Nichols said it would be hard to spare cuts to long-term care services if hundreds of billions are cut out of the program.

The ad “draws attention to what is potentially the most significant aspect of the Romney health plan,” said Sara Rosenbaum, health policy professor at George Washington University and another former Clinton administration official, “because of the sheer reach of the Medicaid program into roughly one in six American homes, and the role that Medicaid plays in sustaining entire health care systems in the nation’s most medically underserved communities.