Advocates of consumer-driven health reform want to shrink the role of government. One of the things we want is for Medicaid dependents to have greater choice of coverage, perhaps even through vouchers or tax credits that would allow them to choose private coverage. We know that Medicaid patients face poor access to care and that increasing the number of people on Medicaid increases emergency-department use. And yet, it has also been argued that hospitals lose money on Medicaid patients. However, this cannot make sense because hospitals constantly lobby to expand Medicaid. They never join with proposals to move Medicaid patients to private coverage. This is especially baffling because scholars also believe that some proportion of people who take advantage of a Medicaid expansion drop private coverage to take up Medicaid.
Evidence from Arizona leads to an explanation. Arizona hospitals heavily lobbied Governor Brewer to expand Medicaid in line with Obamacare. This expansion resulted in a reduction in so-called “uncompensated costs” from about 8 percent of hospitals’ revenue in the summer of 2013 to under 5 percent in April 2014. As well, Arizona hospitals operating margin increased from $140 million for 2013 to date to $184 million for 2014 to date, an increase in operation margin from 4.0 percent to 5.2 percent.