In response to a recent column in which I argued that Arkansas should accept federal dollars for expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, reader Denton Kernodle of Caraway wrote a gracious letter to the editor of The Jonesboro Sun. I say gracious because he offered compliments while disagreeing with the main points of the column.
That’s what the Opinions pages of most American newspapers do — provide a forum for airing the various sides of important issues — and good editors require that it be done respectfully. If our national political leaders showed more respect for each other, along with a spirit of compromise, I dare say they could resolve the issues that concern Mr. Kernodle, you and me.
Instead they have reduced our national political process to posturing and name-calling, leading to stalemate, while the people who elected them suffer the consequences.
Of course, Mr. Kernodle and I don’t have to stand for election or re-election so we can offer opinions without fear of losing our jobs (I’m already mostly retired anyway).
But in his letter he suggested my column reflected a lack of "thinking through," saying that spending more money on Medicaid will simply push us as a nation further into debt. I take issue with that "thinking" assertion; indeed, I have been thinking and writing about the national debt and budget deficit for many years, since even before the Clinton years produced a balanced federal budget.
First, the notion that the Medicaid program is just for the poor people who can’t afford or don’t bother to get health insurance is misguided. Most of Arkansas’ Medicaid dollars go to children (ArKids, the greatest accomplishment of the tenure of Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee), disabled people and the elderly whose Medicare benefits have run out.
Let me give you a personal, current example. My mother, who is 87, worked full-time from about the age of 20 to her retirement at age 65, earning plenty of Social Security and Medicare credits. Since she retired, she has lived comfortably on her Social Security, a veteran’s widow pension and her work IRA. She continued to pay her Medicare premium, along with premiums for a drug benefit program and a medigap policy.
She has stayed in her own home, which was paid for many years ago. She’s not poor, but she’s not one of the 1 percent either. For the past eight years she has had several health crises and is in the midst of another now. Without Medicare and the private insurance she carried, she would have been bankrupted several times. Worse, she might not have lived through four of the crises. Twice, when she had to have skilled nursing care beyond hospitalization, Medicare provided coverage to its limit.
On either of those occasions, or the current crisis, if she needed nursing home care beyond what Medicare would cover (90 days in most instances), her income, savings and possibly her house and car would be gone in a matter of months. Her only recourse would be Medicaid, and, believe me, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would want her to have that care.
What’s wrong with the Affordable Care Act, as well as what few alternatives opponents have offered, is any meaningful method of dealing with the rapidly escalating cost of all health care.
Republicans are now castigating President Obama because the ACA cuts some $700 billion from Medicare. What they fail to tell you is that most of those are dollars that go to subsidize the private insurance companies that have benefited greatly from the Part D drug plan passed by President George W. Bush and to trim payments to hospitals. Both industries agreed to those cuts in the negotiations over ACA because they stood to gain greatly in other areas.
Those who are concerned about the debt we are passing to our children and grandchildren under the Affordable Care Act were strangely silent when:
• the Bush administration passed major tax cuts, especially benefitting the rich and upper middle class, in 2001 and 2003;
• the Bush administration went to war in Iraq without cause and without the means of paying the costs;
• the Bush administration passed the Part D drug benefit without the means of paying for it; and
• these and other fiscally foolish measures resulted in an economic downtown in 2008 and a banking-investment crisis that required the bipartisan Troubled Asset Relief Program, bailing out the big financiers, and an economic stimulus package in the first days of the Obama administration.
Those who really want to know what’s driving this nation further into debt should look at a remarkable chart produced by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (http://www.offthechartsblog.org/what’s-driving-projects-debt). It shows that the Bush era tax cuts, if continued, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will account for nearly half of all public debt by 2019 and will explain almost the entire federal budget deficit for the next 10 years.
Congress and President Obama extended the Bush tax cuts once, which I also opposed editorially, and another extension is a part of the current stalemate. (The political difference is whether the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should be extended.)
And yet now we’re arguing about drawing the line against helping children, the disabled and the aged in our own families and communities. Who’s not thinking ahead?
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.