We all know federal and state governments are buckling under the cost of health benefits. But their priorities have become more than a little perverse:
As they prepared to send the spending cuts to the floor, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and his GOP lieutenants realized they were headed for defeat unless they secured one more vote. And to get that, Frist had to meet the asking price of one of two GOP senators, Norm Coleman of Minnesota or Gordon H. Smith of Oregon.Politics as usual, right? Maybe, until you see this stat:
Smith vowed not to support the bill unless it was changed so that proposed savings on Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor, were achieved at the expense of drug companies and other providers instead of coming in the form of lower benefits for Medicaid recipients.
Coleman's price for supporting the package was removing from the bill a provision that would have eliminated $30 million in subsidies for sugar beet growers, many of them in his home state.
In the end, sugar farmers got to keep their subsidy and Frist got Coleman's vote.
There were 568,000 Medicaid recipients in Minnesota last year, and 40,000 people whose livelihood depended on sugar beets.That's just in Minnesota. 52 million people are covered by Medicaid nationwide. That means one out of every six folks in this country are on Medicaid. You really think one out of every six people in this country farms beets ?
But the fed's cuts go much further than trade-offs between sugar producers (who have a part in our obesity epidemic, for sure) and a Minnesota senator. 29 states saw a decrease in the number of federal dollars they received for Medicaid in 2006, and states like Missouri and Tennessee are making significant changes in eligibility and payments.
Some people will be knocked out of the system altogether and join the ranks of the uninsured. Others will just postpone care. Either way, it's a lose-lose situation. We're running out of short-term fixes for Medicaid. Its long-term fiscal health is in danger, and it needs a long-term solution -- one that addresses the problems of the entire health care system.