Medicaid Cuts Loom Over Arkansas Families

o debt deals have been made in Washington yet, but we’re getting more and more nervous that lawmakers have mistakenly concluded that the best way to balance the budget is to cut ARKids First and Medicaid. That would leave hundreds of thousands of Arkansans with no, or very limited, insurance. The majority of Medicaid recipients in Arkansas are children.

The Medicaid program-a joint federal and state venture-supports the successful health insurance program that covers more than half of Arkansas children. Research shows that children without health care grow up with problems that are expensive for societies to address: long-term disability, learning deficiencies, lower wage earning and more.

Given those facts, there are still members of our Congressional delegation who believe these children and families should suffer because Congress cannot control its spending.

In today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, we met an Arkansas family that relies on Medicaid to help cover the treatment of their young son who has Down’s syndrome. James and DeAnn Hunt do not fit the profile that likely jumped to your mind when you read they use Medicaid. Dr. James Hunt makes a good living as an anesthesiologist at UAMS. The Hunts and parents of other developmentally disabled children use the TEFRA program-funded by Medicaid-to provide services that impose extraordinarily high costs even for families like the Hunts. As a result of early intervention, the Hunt’s son, Al, will likely grow up to be able to hold a job-and to pay taxes. This investment makes far more sense than paying for him to receive far more expensive treatment as an adult-and not be able to contribute to taxes to support our shared systems.

We’re disappointed that some of our leaders in Washington don’t understand this investment. In today’s Democrat-Gazettestory, Rep. Steve Womack of Northwest Arkansas said the more than 750,000 Arkansans who rely on Medicaid should expect their services to be cut:

“The people who complain, I’ve had them all in my office,” Womack said. “‘Don’t cut this, don’t cut that. Take care of this program, take care of that program.'”

“It’s unpleasant,” he said of potential cuts. “I understand that. I’m as pained about the need to cut these programs as anybody.”

Womack and others who want Medicaid recipients to brace themselves should also warn the entire Arkansas health system of the pain it would face if Medicaid is significantly cut. Hospitals, clinics and pharmacies are where this money goes, paying the salaries of doctors, nurses, technicians and janitors. These are real jobs at stake; every Medicaid dollar spent in Arkansas generates $6 in economic activity.

Devastating the Arkansas economy isn’t the answer to addressing the rising cost of health care.

We’re glad that at least one Arkansas member of the United States House of Representatives has his priorities straight. Rep. Mike Ross of south Arkansas:

“I am not going to support any plan that cuts benefits for people on Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security,” Ross said. “There’s a big difference between reforms and cuts.”

Mr. Ross has it right. Good governance requires reform and evaluation of programs, but blindly cutting programs hurts the well being of our citizens and leads to system-wide failure-just as it does in business and in our homes.

The refusal of Congress to even consider a balanced approach to our debt that includes revenue increases-like closing loopholes for corporations and the richest fraction of Americans-means people like the Hunts face difficult choices that will have long-lasting effects on their lives. This is an upper-middle class family that has worked hard to become a success. Do we want to threaten the economic security of all the families in their situation? The economic security of us all?

We can still save Medicaid. See this link to reach out to your representative in Washington, D.C. on Facebook.