More Than Words? How Highlighting Target Populations Affects Public Opinion about the Medicaid Program

Simon F. Haeder, Steven M. Sylvester, Timothy Callaghan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Context: The Medicaid program provides health insurance coverage to a diverse set of demographics. We know little about how the policy community describes these populations (e.g., on Medicaid-related websites or in public opinion polls and policy writings) or whether and how these descriptions may affect perceptions of the program, its beneficiaries, and potential policy changes. Methods: To investigate this issue, we developed and fielded a nationally representative survey of 2,680 Americans that included an experiment for priming respondents by highlighting different combinations of target populations of the Medicaid program as found in the Medicaid policy discourse. Findings: Overall, we find that Americans view Medicaid and its beneficiaries rather favorably. However, there are marked differences based on partisanship and racial animosity. Emphasizing citizenship and residency requirements at times improved these perceptions. Conclusions: Racial perceptions and partisanship are important correlates in Americans’ views about Medicaid and its beneficiaries. However, perceptions are not immutable. In general, the policy community should shift toward using more comprehensive descriptions of the Medicaid population that go beyond the focus on low income and that include citizenship and residency requirements. Future research should expand this work by studying descriptions in the broader public discourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)713-757
Number of pages45
JournalJournal of health politics, policy and law
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 29 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine

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