Budget Attack on the Right to Health – and People Fighting Back

Today, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives released a budget proposal that presents a direct assault on our economic and social rights, including our right to health. Health care advocates are uniformly condemning this budget, particularly the proposals to turn Medicaid into a block grant and to privatize Medicare. For example, see below a post from the National Health Law Program (NHeLP).

Beyond D.C., the fight against these attacks is already in full swing. This week, people across the U.S. are rising up to claim their rights, 43 years after Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968. As the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  states, “Dr. King was assassinated while in Memphis, Tenn., defending the fundamental rights to fair pay, safe working conditions, and an equal voice in solidarity with more than one thousand city sanitation workers on strike for better wages and benefits. This week, the civil and human rights community remembers and honors King’s sacrifice and commitment to economic justice and workers rights by uniting with union members, students, and other advocates for the “We Are One” campaign. “We Are One” grew organically out of the attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, and is made up of a diverse coalition of local, state and national community leaders, working people, activists and individuals whom are coming together to push back and to show unity in the face of attacks on collective bargaining rights, voting rights, women, immigrants, and public service programs. To show solidarity and support for these issues, people across the country are participating in more than a thousand marches, teach-ins, vigils, community forums, and thousands of other community- and workplace-focused actions this week, coordinated by the “We Are One” coalition.”

Excerpts from NHeLP’s post [highlights added]:
Today, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released his FY 2012 budget proposal.[…] Ryan’s budget proposal would rescind the Medicaid expansion enacted in the Affordable Care Act and convert the rest of Medicaid into a block grant.  He says this will give states more “flexibility.” 

Are you fooled?  States already have significant flexibility in administering their Medicaid program.  A block grant really means one thing – cutting funds from a program that provides cost-effective healthcare to the lowest income individuals.  At the same time, the budget proposal would lower the top corporate and individual tax rates.  We’d literally be robbing Peter (low-income Medicaid beneficiaries) to pay Paul (upper income individuals and corporations).  So are we really trying to cut the deficit or use it as an excuse to slash Medicaid and Medicare?

Congress may want to actually listen to their constituents’ opinions about Medicaid.  A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that only 13% were willing to see major reductions in Medicaid, the same percentage as for public education.  And 59% percent said Medicaid was either "very important" to them or their families (39%) or "somewhat important" (20%).  For more of the poll’s results, click here.

[…] On Medicare, Ryan’s proposal creates what’s called a “premium support plan,” so that the federal government no longer acts as a health insurer for seniors. Instead, seniors would pick from a list of private insurance plans, and Medicare would subsidize their coverage up to a capped yearly amount so any costs above that cap would be borne by beneficiaries.  Ryan’s plan would not apply, however, to Americans age 55 and older, for whom Medicare would remain under the current system.
I hope history stays on our side as prior efforts to block grant Medicaid have failed. 

But the bigger issue is why isn’t this about human rights and not politics?  Why is it ok to have millions of uninsured and underinsured?  We all have the right to health and healthcare and Medicaid and Medicare happen to be two of the more effective and cost-efficient ways we currently provide healthcare to low-income and older individuals.  Do they need improvements?  Yes but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater (especially since Medicaid covers over 40% of births in the US).  And don’t say it’s in the name of deficit reduction if you’re also cutting tax rates for the highest income individuals.  If you agree, you may want to call your Representatives and Senators and let them know what you think. 
Mara Youdelman, Managing Attorney (DC Office), National Health Law Program