How Reporters Can Do a Better Job Representing the Poor

01/26/2017 05:02 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2018

Reporters covering the Medicaid debate at the Capitol should read Denver Post opinion writer Megan Schrader's column today and act on it.

Schrader: "It's simply disingenuous to imply that there are easy cuts to be made in the Medicaid portion of the budget, or to blame the state budget's woes on the expansion pushed by Obama and adopted by Gov. John Hickenlooper."

Translation: When Republican leaders blame Medicaid for state budget woes, reporters should ask them how they want to cut the state-federal program, which offers healthcare for children, elderly, the disabled, and other poor people.

Last year, Republicans, led by then State Senator Bill Cadman repeatedly claimed Medicaid was siphoning money from "every other program" in the state budget, including roads and schools.

Cadman told 9News: "[Democrats] have ignored the needs and demands of about five million people to specifically support one program, and it cannibalizes every other program. They've ignored the Constitution and put K-12 money into this program. I mean, they've ignored the roads, and put money into this program.

But in an epic fail, journalists never reported how Cadman or other Republicans proposed cutting Medicaid or saving money on the program through higher fees or the like. They reported the attack on the program but let the details slide by.

In her column, Schrader encourages Democrats and Republicans to try to find savings, and she acknowledges the difficulty in talking about them--which is precisely why reporters should be asking for specifics, especially from Republicans, who, unlike Democrats, are arguing that Medicaid cuts are a major part of the path out of Colorado's budget woes.

Another take-away for reporters from Schrader's piece is to challenge Republicans when they blame Colorado's budget problems on the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

Schrader wrote, "President Barack Obama's proposed expansion has been funded entirely by federal dollars until this fiscal year, when the draw-down began and states started to pay a portion. In 2017-18, Colorado's share, around 10 percent, will be funded by a small portion of a hospital user fee.... But that expansion is not hurting our general fund budget or causing the current fiscal crisis.

Last year, when Republicans blamed Obamacare for budget problems in Colorado, reporters did not explain often enough that this assertion is mostly, if not completely, false.

Overall, I'm hoping Schrader's Post piece inspires more aggressive reporting on Medicaid, with reporters no longer tolerating muckety-muck Republicans blaming poor, sick, and disabled people for Colorado's potholes--unless they explain, specifically, how they want to take tax money from the poor people and spend it on the potholes.

Journalism is about giving a voice to people who don't have one. When bogus, talking-point-style attacks are launched at Medicaid, reporters should pretend they're asking questions for all those low-income people who aren't in the room. I know that's sort of pedantic and trite, a bad combination in writing, but that's what it's about.