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Let’s Protect Medicaid from the Mean-Spirited and Short-Sighted Efforts to Reduce Enrollment

When, if ever, are Republican politicians going to stand on their own two feet, represent the interests of their constituents, and stop being sycophants to Donald Trump?

Here we have 67 Republican legislators pushing for a Medicaid work requirement, apparently because that’s what Trump wants. But is that really in the best interests of the Montanans these folks represent?

Let’s acknowledge from the get-go that denying people health care coverage because they don’t have jobs is mean-spirited and short-sighted. For a whole lot of reasons – illness, addiction, abuse, family dissolution, sheer misfortune – people’s lives can become a shambles, and that’s the time they need help.

They don’t need a censorious politician wagging his finger in their face, telling them they’re “able-bodied,” or that they don’t “deserve” help, or that they need to be rescued from their “dependence” on government.

But set all that aside for a moment. Who wins and who (besides Medicaid recipients themselves) loses when people are kicked off Medicaid?

Well, one of the big winners is Trump himself. Quite apart from demonstrating to his base that he’s tough on yet another one of their imagined enemies, reducing the Medicaid bill – the great majority of it being Federal dollars – allows Trump to lay claim to a modicum of fiscal responsibility. Cutting corporate taxes and spending lavishly on the military is playing havoc with the Federal deficit, which now stands at a tidy $782 billion. What better way is there to come up with a few bucks than to carve it out of the backs of the poor?

And who loses from cutting Medicaid enrollments? Well, we all do. Republican legislators will tell you that we’ll save some tax money, but what they won’t tell you is that when you take coverage away from people, they stop getting treatment and start getting sick. When they’re sick enough, they end up in the emergency room receiving charity care, which is expensive and has to be paid for by hospital charges to paying patients. So there you have it: Save the Federal government $90 and the state $10 by refusing to pay for some poor person’s visit to a doctor. Let that person get sick, end up in the emergency room, and be treated for well more than $100. And pay for that treatment with higher charges on Montanans when they go to hospitals.

And then there’s this: Putting people on Medicaid helps put them back on their feet. They’re healthier. They’re more able to earn a decent living. They pay off their debts. They don’t go bankrupt trying to pay their medical bills. It’s cruel and senseless to deny Medicaid coverage to people who are in distress and at the low point of their lives. The idea is to lift people up, not grind them down. That’s not good for anybody.

Let Donald Trump rail away. And then ignore him and do what’s right for Montana.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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Dick Barrett

Dick Barrett is a retired University of Montana economics professor who has served in the Montana legislature since 2009. He currently represents Senate District 45 in Missoula. Due to term limits, the 2019 session will be his last.

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