GOP Takes Aim at Health Care for the Poor; CHA responds

Yesterday, Politico reported that GOP Congressman Denny Rehberg thinks the "Super Committee" charged with closing the federal budget deficit should cut two provisions of the Affordable Care Act in order to meet their savings' goal. Rehberg suggested that Medicaid not be extended to cover more people and that the committee nix the subsidies to help poor people buy insurance.

Rehberg's proposal is the policy equivalent of the yahoos in the audience who shouted "Yeah!" and cheered at a recent GOP debate when Wolf Blitzer asked if a man with no health insurance should be allowed to die if he finds himself in the emergency room with life-threatening injuries.

In a forceful statement, Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, urged Congress not to balance the budget by cutting health care for the poor. Her statement reads:

As the deficit supercommittee works to right the nation’s finances, the needs of vulnerable people must be among the highest priority and not summarily dismissed as an easy, one-stop target for spending reduction.

We were saddened and distressed to learn this week that a member of Congress proposes lawmakers can reach their goal of $1.2 trillion in spending reductions solely by eliminating the Medicaid expansion and coverage subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while cutting no other spending or adding any revenue.

When continued tax cuts for the highest income earners are prioritized over those who lack even basic health access, we have moved too far from our shared values and compassion. We have moved too far from our ideals and our humanity—and even our common sense.

Implying that Medicaid spending is as lavish a choice as an “expensive vacation home,” which the lawmaker reportedly did in a POLITICO interview, is an insult to hard-working people who are struggling through the recession and who would be unable to obtain needed health care without this vital program.

Eliminating the ACA’s coverage provisions is also counter-intuitive and short-sighted: sick people unable to receive treatment add greater expense to the system down the road when their advanced conditions become costlier to manage. A Medicaid dollar saved now can become thousands of dollars spent later on expensive care that could have been prevented or minimized.
We recently learned from the U.S. Census Bureau that more than 46 million people now live in poverty, and nearly 50 million lack health insurance. Our nation became the strong, vibrant, compassionate place it is by ameliorating these conditions with a strong safety net—not by decimating that safety net when it is needed most.

We should only strip out the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and tax-credit subsidies if we want to see poverty rates climb, human suffering increase and collective costs multiply.

Since the first several years of the Medicaid expansion are funded by the federal government, stripping these helpful provisions also imposes a difficult burden on cash-strapped states that still need to find coverage options for a growing number of vulnerable residents.

The Affordable Care Act is working, having already helped millions of young adults, seniors and small businesses. We fully support smart and effective deficit reduction strategies, but not those that place the total burden on those who have the least. That is a strategy not worthy of our great nation.

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