The Disgusting Bipartisan Consensus To Gut Medicaid
With large cuts to Social Security and Medicare off the table thanks to the powerful influence of the AARP and the unpopularity of the Paul Ryan budget plan, bipartisan debt negotiators are focusing on Medicaid for the bulk of their spending cuts. According to Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, “Medicaid suddenly looks like the sacrificial lamb.”
From a politically shallow perspective, the focus on Medicaid makes sense. After all, Medicaid is most known for helping the poor, children, and the disabled — constituencies without much lobbying clout on Capitol Hill. But what the callous, out-of-touch, Washington hacks in both parties don’t understand is that in these tough economic times more Americans need Medicaid than ever before.
Medicaid now covers 68 million people, or nearly one in four Americans. Enrollment in the program increased 17% from the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, to June 2010. Given that millions of Americans lost their employer-based health insurance with the near doubling of the unemployment rate, and that millions of seniors are forced to rely on Medicaid for nursing home care with the decline of their pensions and home values, the increased reliance on Medicaid makes perfect sense. If politicians in either party think they can get away with massive cuts to Medicaid, they are in for a very rude awakening. 67% of voters think cutting Medicaid to reduce the federal deficit is “unacceptable.”
But getting beyond the political concerns with cutting Medicaid for a second, the policy will have devastating consequences for beneficiaries. Children on Medicaid already have to wait an average of 22 days longer for medical care, not to mention that two thirds of children on Medicaid are already turned away from doctor’s offices for non-emergency care, compared to only 10% of children on private health insurance. Deep cuts to Medicaid will only exacerbate those problems and further delay care for sick children.
Two months ago the Obama administration proposed $100 billion in cuts to Medicaid. The Paul Ryan budget cuts Medicaid by $1 trillion and block grants it to states. Given the direction the budget talks are going, we can expect to see hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid once negotiations are over. Yet there is still no bipartisan agreement on repealing the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which would save $700 billion over the next ten years. Budgets are not just about crunching numbers; they are about making moral choices. Right now, the Washington consensus is making the grotesque moral choice to endanger the lives of sick children so that the wealthiest Americans can keep 4% more of the money they earn above $250,000.
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