Saturday, January 30, 2016

Why the war was lost

On a smaller but no less detrimental scale, the failure of Wyoming political leaders to expand Medicaid is our Flint, Michigan.

Legislators voting “no” live in a post-factual world. They have health insurance. They can afford to fabricate information to justify denying insurance to 18,000 Wyomingites who’ll get sicker quicker and die earlier than if our legislators had more concern for people than politics.

There’s not much left to say about Wyoming’s refusal to provide healthcare for low- income families. The battle is over. Small-government mindlessness won. The people lost. Legislators like Rep. Tim Stubson and Senator Drew Perkins have their stories. They’re sticking to them. Facts won’t change their minds.

Wyoming’s constitution requires legislators to balance the budget. These “fiscal conservatives” use that to persuade us how smart they are. Mr. Stubson is running for Congress. Can’t you hear him? “I know how to balance a budget. Elect me!” Stubson and his colleagues have a dirty little secret.

They can’t print money like folks in DC. Neither can they balance the state’s budget without palming millions of federal dollars. They take the money from Washington and contribute more than their fair share to federal deficits while smugly claiming to have balanced Wyoming’s budget. They hide their reliance on federal dollars, using them to pay 20 percent of the costs of state government. They call that “balancing the budget.”

After relying on the federal government to pay for many programs, suddenly they say, “We can’t count on the feds to pay what they promise for Medicaid expansion.”

It’s a phony argument. It has been from the beginning but, as I said, it’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

Equally irrational and unsupportable is their assertion that in some states, Medicaid expansion has actually cost more than it saved. Tom Forslund, the Director of the Wyoming Department of Health has repeatedly provided sound evidence to prove to anyone with ears that this is not the case in Wyoming.

Without Medicaid expansion, Wyoming will continue spending millions on healthcare for the uninsured. Hospitals face closure with unsustainable levels of uncompensated care. Medicaid expansion solves those problems while investing hundreds of millions into our state’s medical infrastructure and economy.

Governor Mead offered a budget proposal, precariously balanced on the $33 million net savings that Medicaid expansion will produce in our state. Constituents might ask, “Where are these bright bulbs in the legislature going to come up with that $33 million now?”
For starters they cut $4 million from tax rebates for elderly and disabled citizens. Then they slashed $11.4 million intended for mental health services for people found to be a danger to themselves or others while giving $8 million to UW athletics. Nice, huh? At the end of the day Wyoming will likely have neither a winning football team nor the satisfaction of helping the least of these. We will have to answer only for the latter.

There’s a second reason there isn’t much more to be said. The voters. I’m about done caring more about the well being of people who don’t vote than they care for themselves.

On January 20 the Appropriations Committee voted on the question of whether to provide healthcare for low income working people. But it was decided last November. It’s a coalition of voters that elect politicians like Misters Stubson and Perkins. Some members of that coalition go to the polls believing the Liberty Group-Tea Party line. Most members of that coalition, however, don’t bother to go to the polls at all.

Wyoming is teetering dangerously close to a voter participation precipice. If the trend continues, soon there will be less than a majority of those who are eligible even bothering to register to vote.

Your guess is as good as mine about who they are but I’m betting many of them are people whose lives are most at stake when the legislature makes these choices. It’s time they decide whether their own lives matter enough for them to actually vote.

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