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Will GOP Congress and Legislature become the new ‘death panels’?

Mario Henderson leads chants of "save Medicaid," as other social service activists, Medicaid recipients and their supporters stage a protest outside the building that houses the offices of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Jackson, Miss. Soaring prices and fewer choices may greet customers when they return to the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces in the fall of 2017, in part because insurers are facing deep uncertainty about whether the Trump administration will continue to make key subsidy payments and enforce other parts of the existing law that help control prices.
Mario Henderson leads chants of "save Medicaid," as other social service activists, Medicaid recipients and their supporters stage a protest outside the building that houses the offices of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Jackson, Miss. Soaring prices and fewer choices may greet customers when they return to the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces in the fall of 2017, in part because insurers are facing deep uncertainty about whether the Trump administration will continue to make key subsidy payments and enforce other parts of the existing law that help control prices. AP

In the 1960s, popular songs like “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by the Hollies, “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers and “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King echoed a growing mood in the country to care for people in need. Today, the majority mood has shifted again.

Speeches last week at the Neshoba County Fair by potential gubernatorial candidates Attorney General Jim Hood and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves reflected this shift.

For example, as reported in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Hood “criticized the Legislature for cuts to the Department of Mental Health, resulting in the closure of the state’s only chemical dependency unit for adult males at a time when many citizens are dealing with opioid addiction.” Hood added, “Legislative leadership neglected addressing problems in favor of providing large tax cuts.”

Reeves countered saying, “I am proud we passed the largest tax cut in state history, and I’m not going to let them deny you the tax break so they can keep spending with reckless abandon.”

This mirrors majority political attitudes in Washington around health care. Tax cuts and costs dominate while commitment to care dwindles.

The long-term outlook for those in need of care is harsh, particularly with regard to Medicaid. Rough comments on the Jackson Jambalaya blog tell the story. “We already have more people collecting benefits than we have working,” wrote one, adding, “How much longer can this go on?”

Reports say Medicaid cuts under consideration in Congress plus cuts coming from the Legislature may soon start forcing retirees out of nursing homes. Nationally, Medicaid pays the costs for about 62 percent of seniors who live in nursing homes, about 75 percent in Mississippi.

Medicaid also serves nearly half a million Mississippi children, about 55 percent of all Medicaid recipients. In June, the Clarion-Ledger wrote about seriously ill children who depend upon Medicaid. One was 13-year old Kennedy who is a type 1 diabetic. Her parents signed her up for Medicaid to afford “the nearly $5,000 a month she needs in insulin and medical supplies.”

Not getting much attention is what happens when Medicaid cuts start putting disabled retirees on the street, eliminating extraordinary care for seriously ill children, closing rural hospital emergency rooms and devastating mental health care.

Republicans railed against Obamacare’s so-called “death panels” for saving money at the cost of lives. Seems our cost-cutting Republican-dominated Legislature and Congress will soon take their place, unless more like state Sen. Brice Wiggins have a say.

“I’ve heard different people and groups say we just need to get rid of Medicaid,” Wiggins, chairman of the Senate Medicaid Committee, told the Clarion-Ledger. “OK, are we not going to take care of our grandmother and grandfather who (are) 90 years old in the nursing home? Medicaid pays for the nursing home.” Earlier in the year he told Mississippi Today, “We have a duty to take care of the least fortunate.”

Meanwhile, we need some new songs like “He’s My Brother, But He Got Too Heavy” and “Lean on Somebody besides Taxpayers” and “You Ain’t Got No Friends No More.”

Bill Crawford is syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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