I can’t tell ya how excited I was to read, “Is Medicaid Gobbling Up Colorado’s Budget,” in The Denver Post, and reporter John Ingold did not let me down.
The piece provides a sober look at the repeated Republican allegation, documented multiple times on this blog, that if not for Democrat-led health care spending on children, elderly, disabled, and other poor people, there would be no budget crisis and the pavers would likely be doing their thing on every street corner.
Here are some takeaways from Ingold’s piece:
Killing Obamacare won’t free up money for roads, schools or other wish-list spending.
We already knew this, but Ingold nails the door to the crazyhouse shut by finding out from Henry Sobanet, Hick’s budget director, that the small percentage of Colorado dollars that pay for Obamacare, also called the Medicaid expansion, can’t be used for general budget expenses.
“We could cancel the expansion, and we wouldn’t save a dollar in the general fund,” Sobanet told Ingold.
But something tells me, if I turn on the radio this morning, I’ll still hear a conservative blaming Obamacare for Colorado’s budget crisis.
Expunging “able-bodied” people from Colorado’s Medicaid rolls won’t do much for roads or the budget.
That’s because, as Ingold reports, cutting “non-disabled adults” from Medicaid would free up “hundreds of millions of dollars” out of a $10 billion budget:
... Colorado could remove all non-disabled adults from the program — cutting its Medicaid population almost in half — and the savings to use elsewhere in the budget would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not in the billions of dollars. (The state’s total general fund budget this year is $10.6 billion.)
And if you cut non-disabled people from Medicaid, you’re left with the collateral social costs of dealing with the lives you’ve blown up, as well as the increase in the costs of uncompensated care from people going to emergency rooms. Not to mention the weight on your conscience from your decision to reject this group of people, who mostly the working poor.
Colorado’s Medicaid costs are increasing, but actual-factual ways to bring down costs are likely to be cruel and illusive.
Ingold reports, “Tackling bigger areas of general-fund Medicaid spending means focusing on other groups. People with disabilities and people in nursing homes, for instance, make up 10 percent of the state’s Medicaid enrollment — but account for 42 percent of state Medicaid spending.”
Who are the “able-bodied” adults whom conservatives want to kick off Medicaid?
This question is left unanswered in Ingold’s otherwise excellent article, and it’s a seriously important question, because the phrase “able-bodied” has become a buzzword among conservatives at the top of the heap, like U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, to talk-radio hosts, and others at the bottom of the heap, for attacking Medicaid recipients. U.S. Rep. Ken Buck expressed the view clearly when he told The Boulder Daily Camera: “I’m not in favor of able-bodied people with no child care responsibilities getting squat.”
I’ll write more about this later, but it turns out, in short, able-bodied Medicaid recipients are truly poor people, most of whom are actually working.
In fact, 75 percent of the adults who got health insurance under Obamacare, about 400,000 in Colorado, who make up a sizable chunk of the “able-bodied” Medicaid group, are working. For a single adult, to be eligible for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, you have to earn less than $16,00. For a family of four, it’s about $32,000.
Bottom line: This article should help fact-conscious politicians have more informed debates about Medicaid spending in Colorado. And it should help stop the stomach-turning scapegoating of low-income people that we hear from conservatives.