Note to Obama: Stimulate Medicaid!

 
Posted at 13-February-2009
by Jeff Rhodes  
 
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As this blog is being written, Congress is currently fussing over the final details of the mega multi-billion dollar stimulus package that is expected to pass even in the face of widespread criticism and resistance.  The package features a variety of spending measures and new project initiatives.  Supporters of the package claim it will force the creation of new jobs, which will put jobless workers back to work, which will put more money back in their pockets, which will enable them to spend, which will cause a rise in sales for businesses, which will force those businesses to hire new workers to meet the new demand, which will put more jobless workers back to work, which will cause the cycle to repeat all over again. 
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But how long will such a process take?  And even assuming it is successful, how far-reaching will its benefits be?   These are questions that as of yet remain unanswered. 
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Congress and the new President need to go beyond stimulating.  They need to look at sustaining as well – that is, what will sustain the poor, the unemployed, and impoverished people of this country until the results of the stimulus package finally trickle down to them. 
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Legislators must not forget the lesson learned by the tragic death of Deamonte Driver.  Driver, a 12-year-old homeless boy from Maryland, died as the result of an infected tooth after his mother’s ceaseless efforts to find a dentist willing to treat him failed – even though he was fully covered under Medicaid.  Deamante’s untimely and very preventable death exposed the flaws in many state-run Medicaid programs such as Maryland’s.  In addition to being unnecessarily complicated for their recipients, these programs are vastly underfunded.  Many healthcare professionals contracted with Medicaid have complained of reimbursement rates being too low to cover the expenses of treating Medicaid-covered patients.  Ultimately, this has led many of them to drop their contracts and has discouraged new ones from signing on.  The result is that many people covered by Medicaid find it extremely difficult to find a physician in their vicinity who will give them the treatment they are rightfully owed.  For example, studies show that children covered under Medicaid are less likely to receive dental care than ones covered by private health insurance. 
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Deamonte’s story and the repercussions of it have slowly but steadily spurred state and federal governments to take action.  But, when considering our current economic climate, the response simply has not been quick enough or sufficient enough.  As more workers lose their jobs and their employer-based healthcare benefits along with them, more people are applying for healthcare coverage under Medicaid.  If our country’s Medicaid systems were not prepared to handle what demand it already had, how can it possibly cope with this oncoming surge of membership?  
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President Obama took a step in the right direction by extending healthcare coverage to our nation’s children.  But he needs to do more.  The new stimulus package must include allocating money for the funding and improvement of our states’ Medicaid systems.  After all, we’ve already given hundreds of billions of dollars to corporate CEOs and Wall Street executives; surely we can make the same effort to ensure that the most unfortunate of our children have a safety net as well.

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