How did we ever get to this place in our society when our elected officials publicly congratulate themselves for denying a basic service like health care to their constituents?
In recent weeks we’ve been treated to two opinion pieces, one by Commissioner Suzy Foss and a second by Sen. Fred Thomas, both of whom went to great lengths explaining their votes that, in Foss’s case, eliminated a 40-plus-year-old public health clinic, and in Thomas’s, denied access to health care for thousands of Montanans living below the poverty line.
Foss’s three publicly stated, and fuzzy-headed, reasons for her vote to reject Title X funds for the county family planning clinic appeared to be made up on the fly – religion, the federal debt and some other blather about birth control pills and cancer – and as such, can be dismissed out of hand for the nonsense they are.
Thomas’s argument in favor of his legislative vote to reject Medicaid expansion was craftier.
But first, let me explain Thomas’s vote. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, known also as Obamacare, the Court left it to the individual states to expand Medicaid for those citizens who make less than the federal poverty level and are therefore ineligible for Obamacare. The federal government picks up 100% of the state tab for expanded Medicaid for the first three years, and 90% each year after that until 2022.
The bill, Senate Bill 395, would have expanded Medicaid in Montana. It failed. This is the vote that apparently made Thomas proud enough to write his Oct. 24 opinion piece.
In his piece, he cites a study that found that “Medicaid expansion spent more money but did very little to help people.” I can cite another study, conducted entirely by myself: No access to health care results in measurably poor health outcomes. People who don’t have money or health insurance tend not to get health care when they need it. Instead, they get sicker and sicker, like my friend Sue Comeau, who waited until the pain was too great and ended up in the emergency room – too late – and died shortly thereafter of a cancer that could have been treated had she had either money or health insurance. The family she left behind was just another casualty of those “difficult decisions” that must be made in a society that values money over compassion and political egotism over compromise.
Thomas relies on buzz words stripped right off the bumper stickers and guaranteed to fire up a right-wing base that has turned mean and nasty: “another bloated federal bureaucracy” and “vicious cycle of unaccountable government spending” and “blah, blah, blah.”
But he also throws the rapidly dwindling ranks of the moderate voter a bone when he says, “Of course, providing health care to those who can’t afford it is a priority – but so is funding schools.” While he fails to name even one single Republican legislative effort to meet this health care “priority” he also commits what in my mind is a cardinal sin of governing in that he pits one group of voters against another: It’s health care or education, can’t have both folks, which will it be? It’s a clever bit of wordsmithing that’s also dishonest and cruel.
It’s worth noting that, while nearly all Ravalli County’s elected representatives – county and state – voted against providing health care of one sort or another for their citizens, many of those same elected officials also receive government-funded health insurance at our expense. At the state legislative level, they are: Ron Ehli and Scott Boulanger; and on the county commission they are Foss, Ron Stoltz and Jeff Burrows.
It could be said that the dominant Tea Party faction of the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee has been wildly successful: They have won nearly every political seat there is to win in this county and they have successfully blocked health care to their constituents. What a victory! Hold your heads high, folks, you have won the battle. Your constituents now have no access to affordable health care, like you do.
In another time, a kinder, gentler time, elected officials voting so shamelessly would have hoped that the voters didn’t notice. Now, they trumpet their success in the local paper.
So, accept your victory with grace, but please just do us all one favor: If you’re going to herald your hypocritical victory in denying such a basic service as health care to the same constituents who are providing YOUR health insurance, at least stop calling yourselves Christian while you’re doing it.