Missouri House budget is cruel and deceptive
The Kansas City Star
Republicans in the Missouri House should be utterly ashamed of the budget they passed late Tuesday, and the process they used to get there.
The $24 billion spending plan, which requires a final House vote before going to the Senate, strips $28 million from a health care program used by 2,800 blind Missourians whose income is too high to meet the state’s very low threshold for Medicaid coverage.
The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Republican Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, North, ended the decades-long health care program without giving recipients the courtesy of a hearing, or bothering to find out who these people are and why they need health care. Instead, defenders of the atrocious move throw out red herrings.
In theory, someone could have a job with a high salary and still qualify for the health care program, they say. In theory, that’s sort of right. All the state requires is that recipients’ assets don’t exceed $20,000, and that they don’t have spouses who are sighted and work.
In reality, though, a blind person with a good-paying job and health benefits almost certainly isn’t drawing from the state health-care program. The state requires that private insurance be used as the primary source of care.
And most of the 2,800 recipients aren’t so lucky. Missouri’s blind population has a 70 percent unemployment rate. Its health care needs are expensive and acute. Many of the people on the state’s health care plan for the blind have diabetes. Some need dialysis or expensive organ anti-rejection medication. Many need medication for glaucoma.
They are in dire need of regular medical care and their chances of being ensured on the individual market with these expensive pre-existing conditions are just about zero. Ironically, the same GOP lawmakers who want to throw blind Missourians over the cliff are the same ones who ceaselessly oppose “Obamacare,” which is the best hope for people with low incomes and/or pre-existing conditions to gain affordable, market-based health care.
Should the unbelievable occur and the 2,800 blind recipients actually lose their health care, many would likely find their way to Missouri’s high-risk insurance pool, meaning the state would continue to fund their health care, but through another channel.
Here’s another red herring the Republicans are using: It’s unfair to give the blind a health-care benefit that people with other disabilities don’t get.
People with disabilities would be the first to tell you that they are a diverse community, and cannot be lumped into one basket. And the state responds to their needs in different ways. The developmentally disabled and severely physically disabled are eligible for Medicaid waivers and services, for instance.
I would challenge Silvey, or House Speaker Steve Tilley or any Republican to tell us who exactly are “the disabled,” and explain why it’s OK to cut off aid for people with one incapacitating disability because everyone with disabilities isn’t receiving the same thing.
Silvey says it’s necessary to cut aid to the blind because he refuses to cut any more money from the state’s colleges and universities, as Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget recommends. But neither he nor any of the House GOP leaders have mentioned the obvious: That if you’re taking health care from the blind to fund universities, it’s time to look for new sources of revenue.
GOP leaders have in common with the Missourians they would cast into the cold a lack of vision. The difference is that theirs stems from the head and heart.