Friday, March 19, 2010

qotd: Arizona shuts down CHIP, slashes Medicaid

The Arizona Republic
March 18, 2010
Governor signs Ariz. budget-balancing bills
by Casey Newton

Gov. Jan Brewer signed the fiscal 2011 budget on Thursday, enacting $1.1 billion in spending cuts and program eliminations.

The budget, passed last week by the Republican-led Legislature on largely party-line votes, drew criticism from opponents for what they called a disproportionate impact on the poor.

"I'm not sure how cutting three-quarters of a billion dollars from public education and kicking 300,000 people off of health care puts our state on the back on the road to recovery," said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix. "In fact, it dismantles what we have been working for years to build in Arizona — a vibrant, healthy state where people want to live and work."

One aspect of the budget expected to be challenged is a cut of $385 million to the state's Medicaid program, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

The budget bills also eliminate KidsCare, which provided health care to 38,599 children of low-income parents.

Hours after she signed the budget, Brewer appeared at a news conference to urge opposition to federal health-care reform. Asked by reporters what the hundreds of thousands of Arizonans set to lose coverage this year should do, Brewer said they should use community health clinics and emergency rooms.

Comment:  Programs benefiting low income individuals and families, such as Medicaid and CHIP, are politically vulnerable to the whims of conservatives wielding budget cleavers. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona has just provided us with a prime example of that.  Yet popular programs benefiting everyone, such as Medicare, are relatively impenetrable to the weapons of the conservatives.

The reform proposal likely to be enacted by Congress is heavily dependent on the expansion of Medicaid. Since it is a federal/state program, it requires the support of the government on both levels. In spite of the proposed increases in federal support, Gov. Brewer continues to urge opposition to the reform proposal. Low income families will remain vulnerable in her state as long as she and her Republican colleagues remain in charge.

Suppose Congress had included single payer in their deliberations and eventually decided that the benefits were too great to pass up ,and so enacted an improved Medicare program that covered everyone. Gov. Brewer and her ilk on the state level would be powerless to stop it. It would be so popular that conservatives who managed to take over the federal government would never be able to shut the program down.

Whether or not the current bill passes, we need to make every effort to replace our expensive, fragmented, often cruel, and relatively ineffectual system of health care financing with one that works for all of us - a single payer national health program - an improved Medicare for everyone.

Or failing that, as Gov. Brewer says, we could all just go to the emergency room when we can't get into the clinic.

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