Monday, February 9, 2009

I Suppose The Increased Death Toll Will Mean That We Won't Need to Spend More on Medicare

More from Balloon Juice.

This time the subject is Sen. Ensign's oblivious remarks on cutting "bloated" state budgets and how that won't impact state payrolls. The counterpoint is a story in the Los Angeles Times which narrates, among other tales, a Nevada woman's battle with ovarian cancer - and how state budget cuts eliminated the only cancer treatment resource left in the state.

Nevada resident Margaret Frye-Jackman, 71, was diagnosed in August with ovarian cancer. She had two rounds of chemotherapy at University Medical Center, the only public hospital in the Las Vegas area.

Soon after, she and her daughter heard the news on TV: The hospital’s outpatient oncology services were closing because of state Medicaid cuts. Treatment for Frye-Jackman and hundreds of other cancer patients was eliminated.

The Times article goes on to highlight other examples of how states are handling the budget shortfalls.

The Evergreen State [Washington] must close a $5.7-billion shortfall in the next two years. Raising taxes there, as in many other states, continues to be an unpalatable strategy for politicians: Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, amid a tough reelection bid last year, made a no-new-taxes pledge and appears to be sticking to it.

That leaves lawmakers in the Olympia statehouse slugging it out over what to cut.

The governor has proposed pay freezes and layoffs for teachers and other state employees, a $350-million reduction in funding for higher education, closure of 13 state parks, early release for low-risk prisoners, and a 42% reduction in the state's popular health insurance program for the working poor -- a program that provides last-resort coverage to 104,000 people.

The plan also would eliminate cash grants and health insurance for about 16,000 state residents who are temporarily disabled. The proposal wasn't some exaggerated public relations ploy to lure federal stimulus cash: In fact, it already factors in about $1 billion in federal aid. The reality has been sobering for a state that has prided itself on generously funded social programs. [emphasis added]

States are losing more than just revenues; they're losing jobs, and they're losing whole programmes for their citizens. These programmes are ever more frequently including healthcare initiatives designed to help span the gap between the citizens' needs and the increasingly paltry federal funding for such items.

While it is true that the patient John Cole highlights did find treatment in-state, that treatment no doubt was partially paid for by private insurance. As needs like this grow, the costs to private health insurance will no doubt increase, and the trend in that industry will be ever more toward denial of claims, increased premiums and higher standards for coverage. It is distinctly possible that in this model health insurance itself may become too expensive for insurers to offer, and with the public programmes shut down due to budget cuts, healthcare in the US - both as an employer and as a service - may be reduced to a benefit only for those wealthy enough to pay cash for their doctors' services.

One can only assume Senator Ensign percieves the resulting fatalities as an efficient means to reduce the burden on federal healthcare funding.

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