A Test of Ideology

Texas has a higher proportion of its population living without health insurance than any other state. But like many other states with lots of poor people, it has the misfortune of being governed by Republicans. That explains why yesterday, Governor Rick Perry announced that the state will refuse to accept the federal money offered for expanding Medicaid eligibility to everyone who makes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Perry says that this expansion of Medicaid, which is almost entirely paid for by the federal government, will nevertheless bankrupt the state and put the oppressive boot on the necks of Texans. So he's happy to keep 25 percent of his population uninsured.

In case you're wondering, Texas currently sets eligibility for Medicaid at 26 percent of the federal poverty level, which means that if you earn more than $6,000 a year for a family of four, you're not eligible. That's not a typo. Six thousand dollars a year for a family of four is what the state of Texas considers too rich to get on Medicaid. Look down the list of eligibility levels, and you find that only Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, and Louisiana set their eligibility lower. It is just so weird how those poor Southern states are the stingiest with health-care benefits, isn't it?

It's possible that eventually, Texas and the other states will come around to the expansion of Medicaid. Sarah Kliff explains how this happened with Medicaid's enactment in the 1960s and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the 1990s; conservatives initially resisted, but the money and the opportunity to insure their population eventually became irresistible. One of the key factors then and now is the presence of organized, influential interest groups—particularly the hospitals that have to deliver uncompensated care to the uninsured, costing them billions—that can exert their influence on the government's decisions.

But the Republicans who resisted and then gave in were different from the Republicans of today, and this will be a test of just how far they'll go to make a statement about their hatred of the federal government in general and their hatred of Barack Obama in particular. Today's Republicans are the ones who would turn down a deal offering ten dollars of spending cuts for one dollar of tax increases. But that was a hypothetical question, and this question is very real. There are actual human beings whose lives are at stake. I'd love to hear someone ask Rick Perry this question: Which do you think is worse, someone living without health insurance, or someone getting health insurance through a government program? I'm not sure what he'd say, but his actions say quite clearly that he'd prefer that the person have no health insurance. Of course, we're not talking about him personally, or his kids, or anybody he knows having to go without insurance. We're talking about poor people. So screw them.

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