Friday, October 28, 2011

Obama Care: Let the Poor Die in the Streets

The Obama administration gave California the green light to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from Medi-Cal, the Los Angeles Times reported this week. The plan calls for cuts of 10% to providers, including physicians, dentists, clinics, pharmacies and most nursing homes. The new plan would give doctors only $11 per office visit. As a result, fewer doctors will be willing to treat the 7.6 million poor and disabled Californians served by the Medi-Cal program.

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the Times that the decision gives California the flexibility necessary to address its budget shortfall. The cuts are expected to bring in an extra $623 million, out of a total $14 billion annual Medi-Cal budget.

Of course increasing taxes on the state’s 600,000 millionaires is out of the question even though a 1% tax on millionaires would bring in $6 billion per year or ten times what the cuts would save (a conservative estimate based on the assumption that all millionaires earn exactly $1 million per year).

California also wants to implement co-pays for Medi-Cal recipients and limit the number of times patients can see a doctor. Poor patients would have to cough up $5 for each doctor's visits, $50 for emergency room visits and $100 a day for hospital stays. Most would be limited to seven doctor’s visits per year. The latter limitation seems almost punitive, as the increased costs to users alone would likely limit their use of the program. More significantly, the increased cost for hospital visits will likely result in some patients foregoing emergency services for potentially life threatening conditions in hopes they can save a few bucks and ride it out at home. As a result, the number of preventable deaths in California will probably grow.

California already spends less on Medicare than any other state. It has been setting the national standard for how far states can go to gut the program and jettison their poor and indigent residents. By allowing California to further slash Medi-Cal, the federal government has set a precedent for other states to follow. With the unemployment showing no signs of abating and existing jobs continuing a downward spiral of low wages and lousy or nonexistent benefits, the number of Americans dependent of programs like Medicare will only grow.

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