Medicaid expenditures, which had reached more than $32 billion by 1981, have grown substantially throughout the program's history. As a result, the conventional wisdom is that Medicaid expenditures represent a significant public-policy problem. Using other measures, however, it can be shown that the program is much less of a problem than it appears to be. By 1981, spending for Medicaid represented only 12.7 percent of total state spending and had contributed only 14.2 percent to the overall growth in state expenditures since 1965. Moreover, considering only the funds which states raise from in-state sources, the median share of state budgets accounted for by Medicaid was just 5.6 percent, and only 7 states spent as much as 9 percent of their own money on the program. These figures suggest that the marginal reductions in Medicaid expenditures which would result from typical program changes are likely to be so small that rational state officials might be unwilling to incur the political opposition of powerful provider groups or the resistance of large state bureaucracies by proposing substantial reforms. The major exceptions are the few states with very large programs where even small proportional savings would amount to millions of dollars. We conclude that, given its present federal-state form and the current distribution of expenditures, it is unlikely that major reforms will be enacted because the stakes are too small for most states and the federal interest is too diffused.

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