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The ACA and hunger
Taylor Wilhite takes a photo as her mother Amy Wilhite introduces President Obama for remarks on the 90-day anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, in the East Room of the White House, June 22, 2010. (Photo Credit: Pete Souza for the White House)
When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is fully implemented, its effects on reducing hunger will be huge. It’s impossible to say how huge at this point but we can get an idea by considering the effects Medicare has had on reducing hunger among seniors. Since the establishment of Medicare, the senior poverty rate has plummeted from the highest of the major demographic groups (children, adults 18-64, and seniors) to the lowest.
Before the establishment of Medicare in 1965, one in three seniors was uninsured and living in poverty. We don’t have good data on who was hungry or food insecure before 1995. The Census Bureau wasn’t measuring it before then, but as we know since 1995, the ups and downs in hunger and food insecurity track closely the ups and downs in the poverty rate.
Medicare isn’t the main reason senior poverty rates have plummeted. Social Security retirement income increased at the same time that Medicare was established. Social Security is “technically” what pushes seniors over the poverty line—technically because we measure poverty based on income. In 2011,15 million seniors were lifted out of poverty because of Social Security income.
Whatever effects Social Security has on reducing senior poverty would be obliterated if seniors did not also have Medicare. Income and savings would be swallowed whole by a major health care crisis. Without Medicare seniors would be forced to purchase health care in the private insurance market. Whether providers would even be interested in selling insurance to them is doubtful. Insurers lose money on people who require lots of health care. Seniors require more healthcare than younger people because, well, that’s just what happens as people age. Hunger would certainly be an inevitable episode for seniors who lived long enough for their health to start failing.
Nothing has the potential to rob anyone regardless of age of their income or savings like a major medical expense. Often times an illness or injury results in the loss of a job—and with it a loss of health insurance. Most personal bankruptcies are a result of medical expenses. And it’s not just the uninsured. Most bankruptcies caused by medical conditions happen to people who have some form of private health insurance. No one who loses a job because of an illness or injury will ever have to go without insurance now. In other words, they won’t be forced to decide between eating or taking medicine or going to see a doctor when they are in pain.
We can anticipate there will be hiccoughs in the implementation of the new law. These will be fixed. It will take much longer for the hysteria to pass. Some people may never accept what a major step forward this is for the country. But for those of us who want to see hunger rates go down in this country, way down, the ACA is the best thing to come along since... since longer than anything I can think of.
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