By Mike Lillis
AARP, the monolithic 50-and-older lobbying group, is throwing its weight behind states' push for more federal Medicaid dollars.
In a letter sent to every member of Congress last Friday, the group warned a failure to provide the additional funding next year "will harm millions of Americans" — particularly low-income seniors for whom Medicaid is often the only coverage option.
"Medicaid is an important economic driver, not only providing essential health care services to individuals in need but also adding money to the state economy by paying local providers who then spend locally," wrote David Sloane, an AARP vice president.
"With the economic downturn, the number of Medicaid beneficiaries has understandably swelled, with many people unable to pay for health care. Unfortunately, these swelling ranks come at a time when states can least afford the additional costs."
Congress had increased the federal share of Medicaid funding as part of last year's economic stimulus bill, but that money expires at the end of this year — halfway through the budget year of most states.
Many governors have warned the looming expiration, if realized, will force them to cut state programs, including education. Hoping to prevent that from happening, Democrats have pushed for an extension of the enhanced federal rate through the end of the state budget year next July. But GOP concerns over deficit spending have forced supporters of that crusade to scale back their proposal.
The Republicans — notably Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — want the enhanced rate to decrease incrementally over the first six months of 2011.