In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the relief effort, much business has been pushed aside or delayed—the estate tax vote and John Roberts' confirmation hearings come immediately to mind. The other important delay is action on a bill to cut Medicaid by up to $10 billion, which was slated to pass next week. With thousands of victims needing health care aid in the Gulf Coast area, Medicaid beneficiaries are suddenly more visible than ever before—and making cuts now would be a PR disaster for Republican lawmakers.
So we're not going to cut Medicaid while thousands of poor women and children are homeless and penniless on television. But what about when the crisis begins to abate, months down the road? Will it be okay to cut programs that provide health care to America's poorest citizens then? And what about those who don't live in the hurricane zone, but rely on Medicaid nonetheless? Will it take another disaster or PR crisis to bring attention to their plight?
The current delay on Medicaid cuts only lasts until the first week in October, though some Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, have asked the Senate Finance Committee to postpone cuts indefinitely. Advocacy groups are weighing in as well. The National Women's Law Center sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday, calling for aid to hurricane victims now and rejection of Medicaid cuts in the long term. Census Bureau numbers released last week found that poverty among women and children increased for the fourth consecutive year, while 45.8 million Americans are currently without health insurance.
But despite overwhelming evidence of need and amid renewed public calls for the government to protect its most vulnerable citizens, there's still people like House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa. "We're not cutting Medicaid. We're reforming government," Nussle said this week. That's not quite the type of government reform Americans are looking for—or, I suspect, they're willing to tolerate after last week's horrifying negligence.
| Thursday, September 8, 2005 10:21 AM