Monday, June 27, 2011

41 Senate Democrats Stand Up For Medicaid

Earlier this week, The New York Times ran an editorial discussing letters sent by 41 Democratic Senators to President Obama, urging him to continue to stand tough against calls to block grant Medicaid. The most notable contribution was a letter orchestrated by Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia, which was signed by a total of 37 Senate Democrats. A link to the opinion article and the text are pasted below.

Be sure to also see the brief letter submitted to the New York Times yesterday regarding the Editorial. The letter is pasted further below the editorial.

Leonardo D. Cuello
Staff Attorney
National Health Law Program
1444 Eye Street NW, Suite 1105
Washington DC,  20005

June 18, 2011

Signs of Life Spotted in the Senate

Sitting in a defensive crouch for months at a time can get a little uncomfortable, and several Senate Democrats are finally starting to rouse themselves. In the last weeks, there have been some tiny but tantalizing hints that at least a few senators want to offer an alternative to the Republican cost-cutting frenzy and talk about ways to cut sensibly and help put people back to work.
Last week, 41 Senate Democrats wrote letters to President Obama urging him to resist the Republican effort to sharply cut and transform Medicaid, the joint federal and state health program that primarily benefits poor children and pregnant women, disabled adults, and nursing home residents. Several senators have also broken through the wall of fear in Washington that prohibits discussion of stimulus spending.
These actions might seem unremarkable by Democrats in an ordinary year, but those in the Senate have largely been invisible in the current Congress, cowed by a noisy Republican majority in the House and afraid of losing their three-vote edge in the 2012 elections. Senate Democrats will not even put their priorities on the record by producing a budget, leaving it to the White House to negotiate with the House on matters like the debt ceiling.
The Republicans are desperate to show Tea Party voters that they can land a blow on an entitlement program. Medicare cuts are a political loser, but Medicaid — serving a far less powerful clientele than the middle class — has become highly vulnerable to their ax. Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman, has proposed turning Medicaid into a block grant program, giving states lump sums that could not possibly keep pace with rising costs, and allowing states the flexibility to drop coverage for millions.
With the White House eager to cut a deal, 37 senators, led by John Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, wrote President Obama last week urging him to stand firm against these Republican proposals, saying they would not let the government “walk away from Medicaid’s 68 million beneficiaries, the providers that serve them, and the urban and rural communities in which they live.” Similar letters were sent by four other senators.
At the same time, Mr. Rockefeller, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and a few other Democratic senators are urging the administration to stimulate hiring by spending billions to improve infrastructure. Speaking on the Senate floor last week, Mr. Harkin said the Republican focus on spending cuts would kill millions of jobs, and called for new spending to prevent a double-dip recession. Though Republicans will immediately ridicule the idea by repeating their mantra that the 2009 stimulus “failed,” Mr. Harkin and others have found their voice enough to respond that it actually saved or created at least four million jobs and probably many more.
These signs of a stirring in the Senate should inspire the rest of the caucus — and a reluctant White House — to their feet again. What’s the point of having a majority if you don’t use it?

NYT Letter:
June 23, 2011

Protecting Medicaid

To the Editor:
It is a hopeful sign that 41 senators have spoken out in favor of sustaining the Medicaid program (“Signs of Life Spotted in the Senate,” editorial, June 19).
The middle class should not be lured into thinking that Medicaid is a program for the poor. Medicaid provides an important safety net for middle-class families when parents and grandparents need long-term services and supports.
At a cost of as much as $100,000 a year, it doesn’t take long to wipe out a lifetime’s worth of savings. Without Medicaid, adult children would have to take on these costs — often just at the time they are digging deeper to pay for college for their children.
And severely cutting Medicaid will most certainly hurt our nation’s ability to provide health coverage to America’s poor — including low-wage, direct-care workers who provide long-term services and supports but ironically often do not have health coverage themselves.
Protecting Medicaid is essential to the economic security of the vast majority of Americans.
Bronx, June 20, 2011
The writer is national policy director of PHI, formerly the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute.

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