Why the Social Stigma Attached to Medicaid?

A family friend recently wondered why there is a social stigma attached to Medicaid that there isn't to public school. He asserts that they are both programs provided by the government, so why is one (public school) acceptable and the other (Medicaid) unacceptable? Personally, I think that there are a number of complex issues at play here. So I thought I'd share some of my thoughts — and hopefully get some of yours.

Right v. Privilege

In 1948, the U.S. agreed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stated that primary education was a right. (It is worth noting that, according to the Constitution, a treaty or agreement entered into and ratified by Congress is, in fact, also the law of the United States.) However, the idea of compulsory education has been around since the time of Plato, who first popularized the idea in his famous work, Republic. The Aztecs required education for their children, and the Talmud praises formal education. In Great Britain (especially Scotland), there is a long history of a requirement to attend school. Even Martin Luther advocated for the education of all. We have a long history in Western though of viewing education as a right — even for those of little monetary means.

For some reason, though, health care is considered a privilege. Health care is something that not everyone has the right to in our society. Only the rich have historically had access to good health care, and that continues today. In a way, the idea that some groups of people get health care for free — because they can't afford it — is repugnant to a society that is used to thinking that health care is a privilege, and something that you should pay for.

Who pays for what: Public school is free for everyone who wants it

It is also worth noting that everyone can have access to free education. This is what makes public school something that is not looked down upon. (Private school is considered even better, since it is something that you pay for, and therefore “extra”.) Not everyone gets access to free health care. Therefore, if you are using it, you are taking advantage of something that not everyone can use. If you choose not to take advantage of free public education, either through home school or paid private school, that is fine — everyone else still has the option of free public education for their children. However, if I want free health care, I can't have it unless I make less than a certain amount of money. I think that there is a degree of resentment amongst the middle class especially with regard to Medicaid. These folks work hard, pay their dues and have to pay out the nose for something that others get for free. I think this particular grievance goes a long way in explaining some of the social stigma attached to Medicaid.

Priorities: For some reason, health care just isn't a priority

We decided a loooong time ago, as Western civilization, that an educated citizenry was desirable. In a democracy, if you are going to let the people have a voice, you want the people to be educated to a certain degree. All arguments about the quality of public education aside, the idea is that a basic education is needed to participate in the opportunity that is America. If anyone can be president, that anyone should at least be educated. If anyone can vote and if anyone can legislate their views, you want those anyones to have a certain degree of education.

Health care, on the other hand, just doesn't get the same sort of priority. It doesn't really bear directly on how we participate in our democracy. I think it's ridiculous, and I think that a healthy citizenry should be a priority. Besides, we could dramatically reduce health care costs if some version of universal health care (like what Romney introduced in Massachusetts) were adopted. Preventive health care would be much more in vogue if people weren't concerned about getting charged an arm and a leg in insurance premiums for going in before the problem got much worse (and more costly). Since health care isn't a priority in our society, it retains the status of privilege, leading some of those who have to pay for health care to look down on those who don't.

What do you think? Do you think there is a social stigma attached to Medicaid? Why do you think it's there?

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11 thoughts on “Why the Social Stigma Attached to Medicaid?”

  1. It’s because medicaid is the same thing as welfare. Welfare has a stigma because the rest of us have to pay to give others money or services for free. Medicaid is the same. Not to mention, medicaid is better then 99.9% of insurance plans out there.

  2. I mention the fact that many people are upset that they have to pay for what others get for free. And it is depressing that Medicaid is better than insurance plans. You don’t get denied coverage with Medicaid.

    1. Rhonda Montgomery

      Hi Miranda….

      Individuals may not get denied for Medicaid coverage but what I’m finding is some medical providers refuse Medicaid recipients and would rather treat the “privately” insured. Medicaid patients complain on an average the treatment received is very poor as a result of them being on Medicaid.

  3. If you really think about it, public education is “welfare” for education. All of us pay for all of us to so-called “get educated.” Do those who go to private schools have a problem with their monies still going to public school, a service they don’t use? We homeschool our children and I don’t have a problem with my money going to public school: there are people out there who are unable to homeschool or private school.

  4. This is a very interesting post Miranda. I know many will scoff at this argument but to not have Federal and/or State medical-assistance programs is a health risk and too costly NOT to have. The uninsured who have babies, get injured or sick will eventually need to go to a doctor or hospital and someone is going to have to pay the bill eventually and it probably won’t be the uninsured no matter how many collection agencies go after the patients – most likely they flat out don’t have the money and most likely are living close to at the poverty line. Would more women die giving birth or more babies die because women aren’t seeking medical help during their pregnancy or go to hospitals to give birth. Would there be no free vaccinations to a larger percentage of the American population leaving an opening to more diseases many of which could be contagious. Many of the procedures would be more life threatening which means they cost more only because the person put off seeing the doctor or going to a hospital because they didn’t have insurance. So ambulances and ERs would be used A LOT MORE. This also means costly machines to help treat the patients, crowded hospitals, more medical staff because these patients’s care would be more urgent and life-threatening. All it means is more money that doctors and hospitals WOULD NOT be paid. All I am trying to say to the “nay-sayers” is perhaps there would be a domino effect to not having programs like Medicaid that needs to be considered when bashing it!

  5. Also I wanted to add that many have told me they are sick of paying for those lazy people living on welfare. It is just my opinion but I am grateful to live in a country where, when certain citizens are in need of medical care, food and such there are programs that can help them. For those who complain that there are people taking advantage of the program I would say the solution isn’t doing away with those programs but make the criteria of qualifying such that it cancel or at least re-evaluates people currently using those serves in order to see who is taking advantage of the programs. There are millions of families in this nation who lead lives that we have no idea about – perhaps there are illnesses, medical limitations, lack of education, background and other circumstances that make it extremely difficult to make a decent living. We don’t know so how can we therefore just generalize the whole program as useless and negative. Something I have observed being LDS myself and I find it horrible and hypocritical for others of my faith to complain about people on welfare or other government-assisted programs because the LDS church has such an amazing welfare system and it doesn’t always just benefit members of the LDS church. How is okay to help those in need on one and not the other??

  6. I think you both make great points, Anon and Miller Family. We don’t have a problem paying for other people’s children to go to school, but we balk at paying for those same children to get adequate health care. And, of course, Miller Family makes a very good point that if we had universal health care, our overall costs would actually be LESS. We wouldn’t be afraid to take preventative measures and take care of issues before they become prohibitively costly. And I especially like your point about how we live our religion…

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  8. I also understand both sides of this argument, however, I have a different perspective. Im am currently a young women that is pregnant with my first child, and also currently using Medicaid. I have never been on any sort of welfare type of program before and to be honest it was a little disheartening to join. I come from a background of hard working parents who are both well educated and Medicaid was not in my foreseeable future as of 6 months ago. But as a young mother with no insurance for myself what was I supposed to do? I deeply appreciate that I’m now being able to get not only the medical care I need but the education on being a first time parent as well. I have only one complaint… It is completely evident by the tone, body language, demeanor of the health professionals that I have come in contact with that Medicaid patients are not high on the priority list. I realize that their are a lot of people that do take advantage of the system, that are perfectly capable of a job and choose not to be a productive part of society. I’m not one of those people and I hate being treated like one. I couldn’t even get questions I had answered today at the doctors office because no one would take the time to see me for more then the allowed time limit. Like I said, I realize many capable people take advantage of the system but when someone really needs help, its very poor behavior to treat them any less then how you would like to be treated if it was yourself in the same situation. With the economy the way it is now, our financial futures are not secure and Karma is a real thing. Treat others as you would like to be treated.

  9. I had had Medicaid for over 20 years being disabled form a car wreck. It has it’s good points but there is a stigma attached to it which should be removed. I think with millions more recieving Medicaid Jan 1 it will improve.

  10. The problem is people with this attitude, and this is an actual quote about using medicaid: “this is probably the only time in our lives that we will be able to afford to have children — because we can’t afford it”

    So everyone else CAN afford to bring a child into the world AND finance it for others? Personally, I’m sick of seeing women in my ward flaunt how “medically free” their babies were while my husband and I slave away tucking money away in an HSA so we can pay for a birth (if it’s not too complicated). I have no problems with my tax dollars going to pregnant women who are in need unintentionally. It’s when it’s done on purpose
    or without attempted prevention that gets me.

    And to be fair, I don’t like how the largest portion of my property taxes goes to the local school district either. They squander money on useless programs and hardly pay teachers anything.

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