Glossary

entitlement program

A program, such as Medicare or Medicaid, for which people who meet eligibility criteria have a right to benefits. Changes to eligibility criteria and benefits require legislation. For Medicare, the federal government is required to spend the funds necessary to provide benefits for individuals in these programs, unlike discretionary programs for which spending is set by Congress through the appropriations process. For Medicaid, the federal government must provide matching funds to the states. Enrollment in these programs cannot be capped, and neither states nor the federal government may establish waiting lists.