Skip to main content

Medicaid Is a Vital Source of Coverage for Communities Of Color

While President Biden and Democrats Fight to Protect and Expand Medicaid, Republicans Return to Some of Their Oldest Schemes to Cut the Program 

This April marks the 7th annual Medicaid Awareness Month, an important time to bring attention to the communities who rely on Medicaid to stay healthy. Generations of structural racism have resulted in people of color experiencing lower rates of health coverage, worse health outcomes, and staggering health inequities. As a result, Medicaid coverage remains a critical source of coverage and financial security, especially for Black, Latino, and Indigenous families in America who experience poverty at a higher rate than white Americans and remain less likely to have access to quality care – an important driver of health. These groups also face higher rates of chronic conditions that make access to affordable health coverage even more essential.

This Medicaid Awareness Month, Medicaid is under attack by Republicans. The latest GOP scheme slashes trillions from Medicaid through block granting and work reporting requirements and other paperwork and red tape designed to throw people off their coverage. GOP leaders in 10 states have also failed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), blocking 1.6 million people from affordable coverage. Donald Trump has promised to follow through on his plan to repeal the ACA, which would end Medicaid expansion and throw the entire health care system into chaos. The consequences of the GOP war on Medicaid would be particularly devastating for communities of color. President Biden and Democrats, on the other hand, are continuing to fight to address health disparities, expand access to coverage, lower health care costs, and protect Medicaid for years to come.

By The Numbers

  • 1 In 5 Medicaid Enrollees Are Black. As of 2022, Black Americans make up 13.6 percent of the U.S. population, but about 20 percent of Medicaid enrollees.
  • 1 in 3 Native American And American Indian People Are Enrolled In Medicaid. According to the 2021 census, 4.3 million people identified as Native American and American Indian. Nearly 27 percent of this group is enrolled in Medicaid.
  • 30 Percent Of Medicaid Enrollees Are Hispanic/Latino. Hispanic/Latino people make up 18.9 percent of the U.S. population, but nearly 30 percent of Medicaid enrollees.
  • 15 Percent Of Asian Americans Are Enrolled In Medicaid. Roughly 6 percent of the American population identify as Asian American equating to about 21 million people.
  • More Than 30 Percent Of Native Hawaiian And Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI) Are Covered By Medicaid. That’s about 207,000 out of 690,000 NHOPI people.
  • More Than 1.6 Million People Could Gain Coverage If Holdout States Accepted Expansion. If Republicans did the right thing and expanded Medicaid in the remaining holdout states, more than 1.6 million uninsured adults could gain coverage; people of color make up 61 percent of this group, or roughly 1.3 million people.

Research Confirms Medicaid Improves Coverage, Health, And Economic Equity

Reduced Racial/Ethnic Disparities In Coverage. Increasing Medicaid access is the single most important action available to expand coverage and address access to quality care as a driver of health. This together with additional actions to address other social and structural determinants of health can reduce racial/ethnic disparities in the American health care system. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) led to historic reductions in racial/ethnic disparities in access to health care, but gaps in insurance coverage narrowed the most in states that adopted Medicaid expansion.

Closing The Coverage Gap Is Essential For Addressing Health Disparities. Research confirms that Medicaid expansion saves lives and drastically reduces racial/ethnic health coverage disparities. The majority of people in America who would gain coverage if the remaining 10 holdout states expanded Medicaid are people of color. States that expanded their Medicaid programs saw a 51 percent reduction in the gap between uninsured white and Black adults after expansion, and a 45 percent reduction between white and Hispanic/Latino adults. Despite Medicaid expansion’s proven role in reducing racial/ethnic disparities in health care access and improving health outcomes, Republicans have spent years undermining the expansion of Medicaid, blocking millions from coverage. Currently, an estimated 1.5 million uninsured adults are locked out of coverage in the 10 holdout states refusing Medicaid expansion, with people of color comprising 61 percent of those who would gain coverage if these 10 states expanded Medicaid.

Medicaid Is Essential For Children Now And In The Future. Children of color disproportionately rely on Medicaid coverage, making robust Medicaid access a critical racial/ethnic justice issue for American children. Children of color make up nearly 52 percent of all American children, but nearly 67 percent of the children on Medicaid. This coverage not only provides health coverage in the immediate term, but also provides significant long-term benefits, such as being less likely to be hospitalized and more likely to graduate high school and college.

Medicaid Coverage Is Critical To Improving Maternal Health. The United States is only one of two nations that has reported an increase in maternal mortality since 2000, including increases over the past three years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 80 percent of these deaths are preventable. Women of color consistently experience higher rates of maternal mortality than white women, with the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities finding this to be the result of a combination of factors, including life-long toxic stress resulting from racism and the impacts of structural racism in the health care system. 30 states have expanded postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year, covering more than 460,000 individuals. In the 10 states that have refused Medicaid expansion, eight had more than 40 percent of births covered by Medicaid. Medicaid covers 65 percent of all births to Black mothers and 65 percent of women of reproductive age living in the coverage gap are women of color.

Reduced Racial/Ethnic Disparities In Rural Access To Care. 24 percent of rural Americans identify as a person of color. Rural Americans of color face a greater health disparity than their white counterparts due to barriers to health care access, reporting not having primary care providers, forgoing care due to cost, and having fair to poor health status. States that have expanded Medicaid have improved rural hospital financial performance and lower likelihood of hospital closures. When Arkansas and Kentucky accepted Medicaid expansion, adults in those states became more likely to have a personal doctor, obtain care for ongoing conditions, and have a yearly medical check up.

LGBTQI+ People of Color Have Seen Reduced Health Disparities. Due to both systemic factors as well as complex familial dynamics, the LGBTQI+ community is much more at risk of poverty and uninsurance than cisgender heterosexual Americans. Because of this, Medicaid has become a lifeline for the LGBTQI+ community, especially people of color. Around 46 percent of Black LGBTQI+ Americans and 43 percent of Latino LGTBQI+ Americans with incomes below 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Line qualify for Medicaid. As well, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) LGBTQI+ Americans are over two times as likely to have Medicaid as their primary insurance compared to cisgender heterosexual AAPI individuals.

Medicaid Improves Financial Security For Families. The racial/ethnic wealth gap in America is staggering. According to data from the US Census Bureau, in 2020, the annual median household income for white Americans was nearly $20,000 higher than for Hispanic/Latino households and nearly $30,000 higher compared to Black households. As a result, policies to boost financial well-being undoubtedly help people of color. The bottom 10th percentile of earners In Medicaid expansion states saw a 22.4 percent boost in their income, compared to 11.4 percent in non-expansion states. Over the past decade, research has shown the gap in medical debt between Medicaid expansion and holdout states has grown approximately 30 percent. In 2020, Americans living in holdout states carried an average of $375 more in medical debt than their counterparts in expansion states.

Medicaid Reduces Poverty And Inequity. Poverty can produce negative long-term consequences for children and adults alike. Medicaid has long been considered one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in the nation, and its expansion has significantly improved health outcomes for people of color. In a nation where Americans are one medical bill away from being pushed into poverty, Medicaid serves as a lifeline not only for health care, but for economic stability. A January 2021 study from Health Affairs found that the ACA helped reduce income inequality across the board, but much more dramatically in Medicaid expansion states.

Medicaid Helps Those Dealing With Behavioral Health Conditions. States that have expanded Medicaid have added behavioral health benefits, including mental health and substance use disorder care, that particularly benefit beneficiaries of color who have disproportionately been affected by these conditions. 28 percent of Black people and 27 percent of Latinos suffer from a mental health or substance use disorder. Medicaid is the single-largest payer for mental health services in America. 40 percent of adults on Medicaid are living with a serious mental health or substance use disorder.