WASSERMAN: Those in power should reevaluate priorities
Opinions Column: A Healthy Dose of Justice
At the beginning of October and after the summer of health care havoc, I almost wrote a column about how funding was near expiration for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and how Congress would need to take action before the deadline on that measure. My column was due on Oct. 2, but being caught up in midterm pressures and an overwhelming sense of, “there is no way that Congress would deliberately let funding expire for an insurance program that provides health care coverage for poor children,” I did not write the column. As we know, I was very naive and very wrong. If there’s anything that 2017 has taught me, to paraphrase Michelle Obama, it’s that “when they go low, they will soon go even lower.”
It is now December, and the Republican-controlled Congress has just passed tax reform bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate, which will add nearly $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit by 2027, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. At this point, reconciliation between the two chambers of Congress has not yet been completed, and no official law changing the federal tax code has been signed.
Regardless, the evolution of our federal policy fights this year has shown the true colors of this Congress. Just before the Senate bill passed, in an exchange between Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Hatch said that, “The reason CHIP’s having trouble is we don’t have any money anymore.” Hatch then voted for the tax cut bill. So to recap: the Senate majority is more comfortable blowing a $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit than funding a health insurance program for children that costs 1 percent of that.
A Republican measure to extend CHIP was recently passed, but has been criticized as undermining the mission of CHIP to provide health care for all, with the House bill charging more to wealthier Medicare recipients, slashing Affordable Care Act (ACA) funds and shortening the grace period for ACA recipients who miss premium payments. Without a definite path to Congressional stabilizing of CHIP, states have to make contingency plans for their programs without federal funding. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one-third of states are expected to run out of funding by the end of Jan. 2018 and three-quarters by the end of March. The expiration of funding will force states to either pool CHIP recipients into Medicaid — at the lower federal matching rate — or discontinue coverage for them altogether. Currently, 14 states have planned to terminate or phase out coverage, with five of those states planning to end coverage by the end of Jan. 2018. An additional eight states have planned to take action at a later date without specification. Seven states have planned to close new enrollment or place a cap on the number of CHIP recipients, but previous enrollment freezes have shown negative impacts on children’s health and family financial stability. Even if states are able to switch CHIP recipients over to Medicaid, the funding gap resulting from a lower federal contribution must be found somewhere in the state budget or from increased revenues.
The situation regarding CHIP must not be isolated, and should be interpreted within the greater context of the GOP agenda. In passing the tax bills, I suspect that the GOP leadership knew fully well that the tax cuts would not pay for themselves as advertised, and that they intended to redistribute wealth from the bottom to the top. In order to fix the deficit that the tax cuts will create, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R–W.I.) stated that the GOP will focus on “entitlement reform” in 2018 — or rather gutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and welfare to pay for the Republican dowry to their donors, despite campaign promises from President Donald J. Trump that those programs would not be touched. CHIP is just the latest instance of confiscation by Republicans of protections from the Foucauldian biopower of the American state.
It is unfortunate that such an assault has been waged on the children of working class families, because evidence suggests that the government receives a return between 2 and 7 percent of the money it spends insuring children — not to mention that it is depraved to let children become sick and die, but I figured that I would put it into the language of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Keeping our population healthy has long-term benefits to workforce productivity and overall happiness of Americans, but short-term gains for the wealthy have sidetracked the government from that essential fact. On the day this article is printed, it is likely that a man with multiple allegations from women who claimed he acted inappropriately towards them or sexually assaulted them when they were underage, will become elected to the Senate, which is the perfect irony to show how in 2017 we placed tax cuts at a higher priority than the health of our children. America has a lot to atone for.
Jake Wasserman is a Bloustein School senior majoring in Public Health with a minor in Cognitive Science. His column, “A Healthy Dose of Justice” runs every alternate Tuesday.
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