Opposition in some quarters to the federal government keeping its promise to the states regarding Medicaid funding is as disappointing as it is surprising.
Of course the federal government faces a massive challenge regarding deficit spending, but to draw the line on this issue and deny states Medicaid funding that they were counting on, and that they had included in their budgets, makes no sense. More importantly, it will cause real pain to real people and make our weak economy even weaker.
Last year’s stimulus bill increased the federal government’s payments to states for the Medicaid health care program for the poor, with extra funds going to those states with high unemployment. The boost will end in December, but Congress and the Obama administration have repeatedly signaled that the increased funding would be extended.
Many states, including Washington, decided to add the extension in their budgets after the measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives twice and the U.S. Senate once.
Now the funding is stalled. Why?
If Washington state does not get the extra funds, it expects a loss of $480 million and the state will have to lay off 6,400 employees. Thousands of other people will join the unemployment line, further weakening the economic recovery.
Gov. Chris Gregoire will be forced to call a special session and ask the Legislature to raise taxes, or, more likely, enact another round of budget cuts. These might not fall solely on programs dependent on Medicaid. The state may be forced to go back to Gov. Gregoire’s “Book 1” budget proposed before the 2010 session. That proposal did not only cut human services. Among other things, it cut funding for teachers in the earliest grades, laying off thousands of teachers and raising class sizes among our youngest students.
And what about cuts to programs dependent on Medicaid funding?
We represent programs and consumers that provide and receive 24-hour care, 365 days a year, to vulnerable adults, including those with disabilities, dementia and the elderly. While costs for employees, food, utilities and energy have increased dramatically in recent years, the state of Washington reduced funding for long-term care providers. More cuts now would be simply devastating.
America is debating the issue of government spending and debt. Many believe that stimulus spending needs to continue until the economy is back on its feet. Others believe that we need to slam on the brakes and massively cut spending immediately.
This Medicaid funding extension should not be held hostage in that debate. This isn’t new spending; it is a promise made by the federal government that state governments and real people are counting on. In the entire vast array of federal domestic and national defense spending programs, why draw the line here when doing so is unfair and will cause such damage?
We commend Sens. Maria Cantwell and especially Patty Murray for their hard work on this issue, and Gov. Chris Gregoire for her persistence. We call on the rest of the Washington congressional delegation to join them and support this Medicaid extension.
Rejecting new programs is one thing; taking away safety net funding that you have promised to provide is quite another. Next week there will be a showdown in Washington, D.C. over this issue. We ask Congress to keep its promise and provide the Medicaid funding states are counting on.
Gary Weeks is president and chief executive officer of the Washington Health Care Association, Cindi Laws is executive director of the Washington State Residential Care Council of Adult Family Homes, Hilke Faber is founder/advocacy coordinator of Resident Councils of Washington and Steve Emmer is director of care consultation for ElderHealth Northwest.