WASHINGTON — Millions of poor people could still be left without medical insurance under the national health care law if states take an option granted by the Supreme Court and decide not to expand theirMedicaid programs, state officials and health policy experts said Friday.
Republican officials in more than a half-dozen states said they opposed expanding Medicaid or had serious doubts about it, even though the federal government would pick up all the costs in the first few years and at least 90 percent of the expenses after that.
While upholding the most hotly debated part of the health care overhaul law — a requirement that most Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty — the Supreme Court said in its ruling on Thursday that states did not have to expand Medicaid as Congress had intended — leaving a huge question mark over the law’s mechanism for providing coverage to 17 million of the poorest people.
In writing the law, Congress assumed that the poorest uninsured people would gain coverage through Medicaid, while many people with higher incomes would receive federal subsidies to buy private insurance. Now, poor people who live in a state that refuses to expand its Medicaid program will find themselves in a predicament, unable to obtain either Medicaid or subsidies.
That potential gap will probably lead to ferocious statehouse battles in the coming year, as states weigh whether to accept billions of dollars in federal aid to pay for expanded coverage. The health care industry, sensing the skepticism in some states, is preparing a campaign to persuade state officials to accept the money for coverage of the uninsured.