JACKSON – There’s a new movement afoot. It’s called, “Let’s get as much money as possible from the federal government.”
Actually, it’s really nothing new at all, but rather a manifestation of the problems inherent in the setup of Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor.
Numerous states across the country, many of them led by newly-elected governors who pledged during their campaigns not to raise taxes (at the same time promising voters they wouldn’t see a significant reduction in government services), face severe budget deficits.
In Michigan, the projected deficit is almost $2 billion. In New York, it’s almost $10 billion for fiscal year 2004, according to Gov. George Pataki.
There are generally three reasons for the various budget deficits in the states: 1) The bad economy, which has resulted in a decrease in income and other tax revenue, 2) Tax cutting that has gone too far, and 3) Increasing costs of health care for the poor, which are theoretically covered by Medicaid.
Many of the governors, like Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm, here Thursday at Jackson High School to discuss upcoming budget cuts, have urged the federal government to provide more Medicaid dollars to the states.
“The federal government is going to have to put more money into Medicaid if they’re going to keep it alive,” said former state Sen. John “Joe” Schwarz, a physician who waged an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination last year – a campaign mainly focused on his expertise in budgetary issues.
I can’t blame the governors for asking. The states need as much money as they can get for Medicaid. People are getting older and more people – in this economy – are being forced to use it, thus spreading thin the program’s funding all across the country.
But in addition to taking the unpopular, yet necessary, steps of cutting other services and (sometimes) raising additional revenue (YIKES! More taxes!), the states and their governors are asking the federal government for help in balancing their budgets.
Why is it so politically appealing to try to get more money from the feds. Simple. Unlike the states, the federal government isn’t obligated to balance its budget. A few extra billion dollars for the states tacked onto a public debt of $3.5 trillion seems like peanuts, and no politician will ever lose an election for voting to raise it 1 or 2 percent.
Medicaid has been described in Michigan as the “800-pound gorilla” because of its size proportional to other areas of the budget. The current annual cost of the program is $7.2 billion, 55.4 percent of which is in the form of matching dollars from the federal government, according to the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.
Granholm will probably cut a substantial portion of that. And don’t forget: You’ll have to double the amount of her cuts to figure out how much the program will really lose because of the corresponding drop in federal matching funds.
So, not surprisingly, Granholm and many of her fellow governors have been asking the feds for a hike in federal Medicaid spending.
But Granholm isn’t optimistic.
“I hope we can change (President Bush’s) mind, but I don’t expect that to happen,” she said at a news conference at the high school.
The responsibility for ensuring health care coverage for the impoverished should not be divided between the national and state governments. Lack of health care availability to the poor is a national problem, not a national and state problem. The current setup of Medicaid only allows for a vacuum of responsibility. All the states and the feds have to do when there’s a lack of money for Medicaid is blame eachother.
But health care is too important, and if the feds don’t kick in enough money, Granholm should be prepared to find ways so that Michigan residents don’t have to go without quality health care.
What could quite possibly happen is that Medicaid doesn’t cover care unless a disease is life threatening, with patients self-medicating themselves until they need to go to an emergency room (which, aside from being extremely detrimental to one’s health, is really expensive).
Memo to the governor: Raise taxes (even if you said you wouldn’t), cut non-essential services (even if some people get mad), cut education spending (even if everybody with kids or grandkids gets mad), but don’t let people go without good health care.
Meizlish is an LSA junior and editor in chief of the Daily.