GOP must think poor haven’t suffered enough

— February 4, 2014

Kerry Drake
Kerry Drake

Wyoming lawmakers insulted everyone’s intelligence when they used the lame excuse of not trusting the federal government to explain why they threw away $50 million that would have enabled more than 17,000 low-income, childless adults to receive Medicaid.

That’s bad enough, but some proceeded to pile on the poor, insulting and belittling them because they’re supposedly not willing to work and want everything for nothing. They effectively told thousands of people not only won’t they be served any more gruel, they have to give back the spoon and bowl because they don’t deserve them.

If the Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead won’t accept the Medicaid millions, it doesn’t leave many options for people who committed the crime of not making enough money to buy health insurance. They don’t have any lobbyists in expensive suits who can treat lawmakers to free dinners and plead their case, so they’re on their own.

But if you’re stuck in a minimum-wage job – which is likely why you can’t afford health insurance – you don’t have time to spend at the Capitol. And if you did, many Republican legislators would admonish you for choosing to be poor; take some responsibility for improving your life.

The majority of GOP Wyoming lawmakers have adopted the same health care strategy their counterparts in Congress did when they debated the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Here’s the entire Republican plan, as Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., truthfully told Americans in 2009: Don’t get sick, but if you do, die quickly.

It’s the least we can do to show our gratitude for what many conservatives call the “greatest health care system in the world,” even though it’s broken, and has been for decades, because as a nation we won’t recognize health care as a human right; it’s something that private insurance companies must be allowed to exploit to make a profit.

I say “we” because, as I explained in two earlier columns, the loss of my full-time journalism job last year means I now qualify for Medicaid. Like the other 17,000 people caught in the coverage gap, we can’t be included because Wyoming’s Republican leaders decided last year the feds can’t be trusted to hold up their end of the expansion deal to initially pay 100 percent of the cost, gradually reducing it to 90 percent (which is still a great deal for the state) by 2020.

Wyoming takes a lot of money from the federal government for myriad things — including such essentials as roads, schools and homeland security – and the fed never reneged on its promises. But our leaders want us to believe it will happen with Medicaid, so people who would benefit from the program can’t use it.

They can’t have Obamacare, either, because they don’t qualify for any federal subsidies or tax credits on the health insurance exchange. I’m hoping increased part-time work in addition to helping run a nonprofit news webpage will give me enough income so I can sign up for Obamacare and don’t have to rely on Medicaid that isn’t available.

There are two Medicaid alternatives the Legislature might look at during the budget session that begins February 10, but don’t hold your breath waiting for one to pass. Non-budget bills must get at least two-thirds support in both chambers to even be considered. A Democratic effort to put Medicaid expansion in the main budget bill, so it just needed a simple majority, failed.

Mead’s hatred of Obamacare is well-documented. The first thing he did in office was join other states suing the feds in a losing effort over the law’s constitutionality. Later he said Wyoming needed to develop its own health care solution, and then did everything he could to keep the state from administering its own health exchanges. He let the feds take over.

So what are the remaining options? Medicaid Fit is an honest attempt by Rep. Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne) to reach a compromise enough Republicans will vote for so at least low-income childless adults will be able to receive some benefits. Throne favors passing the full federal Medicaid expansion, but understands there is no sentiment in either conservative-dominated chamber to approve it. She deserves credit for trying to work with moderate Republicans, because if some version of the expansion doesn’t pass, people caught in the Medicaid gap will stay that way for at least another year.

My problem with Medicaid Fit is that by watering down what the expansion could do for people who desperately need help, we’re allowing lawmakers to pretend it’s OK for Wyoming citizens to receive fewer benefits than people in states that did the right thing and protected their residents’ health care.

Throne explained at the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee meeting Jan. 9 in Cheyenne that Republicans want to see the poor “have some skin in the game.” Her bill uses federal expansion funds to provide a “more limited” set of services to those eligible, with the possibility of cost-sharing mechanisms built in.

But there’s no reason for Wyoming not to have full Medicaid expansion, other than to placate the GOP so it can score political points with the party’s right-wing core. Some say half a loaf is better than none at all. But what about a quarter of a loaf? Is that enough to keep the rabble happy? Maybe it’s sufficient to let them fight over crumbs the wealthy leave when they’ve had their fill of the bread.

It’s outrageous anyone thinks less fortunate Wyoming citizens deserve to be treated as second-class for any reason. They need a helping hand, not ridicule. But ridicule is what keeps being dished out to them. The second plan, known as the Arkansas Model, would allow the state to buy private coverage for poor people through the new federal insurance marketplace. As some critics have noted, Republicans think it’s OK to accept federal tax dollars as long as it goes to the private sector, and not into the public sector.

Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell) favors the plan, she said, in part because it encourages uninsured, unemployed people to become “upwardly mobile” since they can take the insurance with them when they land a job. I think the poor have enough incentive to move upward just trying to feed their families and pay their bills.

The stated legislative intent of the Arkansas Model is offensive. It says the Department of Health will reform Medicaid so it is “a personally responsible and opportunity-driven program.” It’s also supposed to “promote accountability, personal responsibility and transparency [and] encourage and reward health outcomes and responsible choices.” Providing low-income people health care should be based on societal goals to keep everyone healthy. It has nothing to do with making Republicans feel good because the beneficiaries humbled themselves and showed enough “personal responsibility.”

At least Harvey was aghast at the insistence of Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) that her plan have a work requirement of at least 20 hours a week, because he thinks that’s the standard for all “welfare programs.” She imparted two hard truths Scott has not yet grasped: Many people lost jobs due to the 2008 recession and there aren’t enough good-paying jobs for everyone.

A friend of mine has a teen relative who took a part-time job that required her to stand outside in a costume and wave at potential customers. One day was all she could endure, so she told her boss she wanted to quit and go back to making sandwiches. “Good,” he replied. “There are 50 other people who want that job.”

Given the current job market in many Wyoming towns, I don’t doubt it. Most people are willing to do what they need to – including crappy, miserable jobs – to get by. They certainly don’t need any legislator telling them to suck it up, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and, damn it, get off the dole.

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is editor-in-chief of the nonprofit, online community newspaper, The Casper Citizen. He also moderates the WyPols blog.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. You are the voice of so many Wyoming people, and you have a lot of readers–whether or not they all have the time to post comments. It’s clear that you’ve been targeted, but unclear where these “Wyoming voices” are coming from. At least one of your readers has tried to suss out the “Wyoming home” of one of your dis-creditors, but, oily one, will not be transparent. When they’re breathing down your neck, you know you’re on the right trail.

  2. “Matt Meaad gets his handouts”
    I have only one dispute with your post,
    “It’s time for a change. Mead and the Wyo gang obviously don’t have the brains to figure it out.”
    It is not them, it is ALEC, Wyoming_Liberty_Group and Wyoming_Policy_Institute that write legislation for our lawmakers to sign, no questions ask.

  3. Wyoming can’t complain that the Feds are broke, burdening future generations, and in no shape to dish out subsidies for medical care while they (Wyoming) are always asking for more money from the Feds for everything from sewer lines, bike trails, and medical facilities. Just silly.

    Here in Wyoming, EVERYONE is on the dole thanks to the extractive industry & the Feds. We bank billions of dollars. Instead of spending our own money, we ask the Feds to drop us a million. That’s welfare for the one of the richest states in the Union and I rarely hear conservatives or liberals complaining about it. Our nation’s veterans can’t stop asking for more handouts. Our nation’s farmers can’t stop asking for more handouts. The list is endless. Everyone loves a handout. It does need to stop. The question with healthcare is what is the return on the investment. Is a healthier workforce good for the economy? Are there returns that don’t show up on the healthcare balance sheet? Quite possibly.

    The Mead family has been the beneficiary of farm subsidies and all sorts of special interest tax breaks. Do they really care enough about the fiscal health of our federal government to stop the handouts? How about our Vets? Doubt it. I bet they Meads support the current farm bill. I bet our nations vets support the new 6 billion benefits package. Mead’s education was subsidized by others. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem capable of using it to come up with a viable alternative to all the handouts he receives. Like Obamacare insuring the health of poor Americans, the current farm bill insures the profits of wealthy farmers at a great expense to Americans. Mead isn’t complaining.

    Obamacare is a fine idea (insurance for the uninsured – or affordable insurance for those with preexisting conditions) but it has been poorly executed and its faults have been discussed extensively so there’s no reason to reexamine them here. It’s true that the Feds were already dishing out money for the uninsured who received care at Wyoming’s hospitals so it’s not like Obamacare would be spending an exceptional amount over what we would have dished out to address the needs of the poor.

    Decent health insurance has always been unaffordable for low income workers – even healthy ones – who have to buy individual policies on the open market. Many uninsured people could work another job to pay for insurance but it’s unlikely that they could buy insurance at discounted group rates. The poorest of the poor have to pay premium rates for substandard coverage. That’s just wrong. Of course, many workers, or uninsured individuals, can’t take on extra work, or any work, if it isn’t available. In some cases, individuals are caring for family members, or they are disabled, etc, and simply don’t have the ability to take on more working hours.

    The idea that it’s easy to get up and move is silly. It’s expensive – and possibly damaging to a family if you need to leave loved ones behind. The government should do more to help unemployed Americans relocate for work. That’s better than never-ending welfare for those living in a location with a dying job market. We just gave millions to an ammo company in Colorado to relocate to Wyoming but we won’t help families move to find better work – or any work. The total local and state investment in bringing Magpul to Cheyenne is about $17 million. Try finding housing on your own in a booming oil town in North Dakota without a big bankroll. Jackson Hole has plenty of jobs but no housing. Even if you did find housing, it’s usually expensive and many employers only want cheap imported labor. Housing is often snapped up for visa workers and Americans are denied access. It’s very difficult to relocate.

    The government goes out of its way to make your life difficult if you’re poor, broke, unemployed, or just trying to support yourself without government assistance. The idea that you would try to save money by car camping or camping on ‘public’ lands is offensive to government. It’s illegal to get a drivers license if you don’t have an address. Without an address, you can’t get a PO Box. Government hates it when people can’t be easily tracked, taxed, and trapped into their way of doing business. The government is often an obstacle to success or independence for the working poor or unemployed. Remember that our elected representatives at the state and federal level promised employers in Jackson Hole that they would work to ensure a steady supply of visa workers during the recession. Better to have employees from Mexico than Michigan or Opal.

    A healthy workforce is good for the economy much like a healthy infrastructure. Healthcare expenses can only be covered with healthy wages which much of the business community objects to. When a business pays substandard wages, the taxpayer often picks up the tab for their employees’ basic needs – housing, education, childcare, healthcare, transportation, telephone service, legal services, and other community resources, That’s a subsidy for the business owner much like good roads and rural internet service. Just as taxpayers often refuse to pay for the true price of government goods and services, and just as business owners often refuse to pay wages that cover the true cost of living, costumers refuse to pay the true cost of providing goods and services. It’s a bad cycle. Everybody expects a handout and it usually comes at the expense of the working poor. Just look at the deaths in Bangladesh at the clothing factory. In essence, the working poor are giving away their fair wages to ensure the success of others. It’s redistributing wealth from the poor to others except in this case the poor never get to actually partake – the money is taken before it’s given. We subsidize airfares for trustfunders to visit Jackson Hole during the winter ski season. We pay substandard wages to ensure that the money left behind by those trustfunders can bankroll the next batch of trustfunders. The wealthy have more income for play and healthcare while the working class does not. Everything becomes a commodity so everything competes on price – except healthcare.

    It’s time for a change. Mead and the Wyo gang obviously don’t have the brains to figure it out.

    I will suggest that we start by bringing in lawyers, doctors, dentists, and nurses from Cuba or Mexico; give them free land (Wyoming has plenty) and citizenship in exchange for providing services to the working class at prices they can afford. The state can buy the liability insurance that the doctors need and ensure access to medical facilities. Who will object – the wealthy doctors who never complain about low skilled workers from Mexico competing with Americans for work.

  4. It is amazing just how morally bankrupt are those arguments made by countless GOP that start with “That 50 million for expansion has to come from somewhere…”

    In all the intellectually dishonesty that oozes from the right, they seem so self righteous in their forgetfulness of the time that the GOP voted for the budget- busting unpaid for Medicare part D – which parts of the Affordable Care Act works to fix. And also which uses the very same “risk corridors” that are used in the Affordable Care Act and are now under a collective attack by the GOP as some kind of bailout, which it isn’t.

    It really questions the social conservatism they are supposed to stand for, much of which is supported by evangelicals. How can they look people in the eye and even suggest that the very poorest of their sick neighbors not be able to make it to the doctor? People like Mike Huckabee, a former pastor. Shame on him, and his faith. And people like him. A faith without deeds, is dead indeed.

    May the Dear Lord rebuke these people. That the fruits of the blight they are creating will become known.

  5. Where to start Dewey, where to start…….

    Obviously not every part of the state enjoys the same amount of economic activity that the Big Horn Basin does. But, if I needed a job to feed my family instead of sitting back waiting for the government to take care of me, I would move to where the jobs where – been there, done that. I left this state for a time because there were no jobs, even minimum wage jobs. The State was broke, we were lucky to get 6 weeks of unemployment and you truly had to be destitute to be eligible for food stamps and the smorgasbord of Federal and State safety nets people enjoy today.

    So, here goes my fish bowl(s), let’s start with the center of the State:

    Casper – has plenty of jobs, blue and white collar. Electricians, welders, pipefitters, engineers, inventory…….ranked #19 in available jobs today by beyond.com.
    Douglas – a hot spot of energy activity right now, not much to say outside of their 1% unemployment rate speaks for itself
    Gillette – certainly with the liberal attacks on coal, certain energy jobs are less than plentiful. A quick check of the local ads shows a wide variety of businesses looking to fill good paying jobs. There is more to Gillette than just coal
    Evanston – looks like a few positions over on the westside, might be a cloudy fishbowl, but still some opportunity.
    Rock Springs – Always opportunities in RS
    Cheyenne – ranked #1 in available jobs by beyond.com – edging out the Silicon Valley for the #1 spot.

    Yes Dewey, it is unfortunate, but sometimes you have move somewhere else if you cannot get by in the community you live. I have been there, done that. I was fortunate enough to come back, start at the bottom of the heap and scratch out a good living. If you want to eat, move to where the grass is.

    Mr. Bailey hit the nail on the head w/Mr. Drake’s writing. It is biased, one sided and inflammatory. It does nothing to further the cause other than prod the 47% masses to cry foul some more. I am still waiting for the number on the cost of providing Medicare to the masses when the Fed’s cut off their spigot. Sure, it’s $50 million in savings today at what cost in 2020 and beyond………

  6. I fail to see how the biting sarcasm, and mean spirited message Drake presents can bring to fruition any type of change. The side Drake doesn’t talk about is the 800 pound gorilla in the room! That Federal money, the 50 million that Wyoming declined, has to come from somewhere. It doesn’t grow on trees in D.C. It comes from the 53% who do have skin in the game! As a nation, we now have 17 trillion dollars in debt, and adding more entitlement spending is not financially sustainable. Where does it say in the Constitution that health care is a right? There has been an explosion of “disabled citizens”…over 8 million now receiving Federal dollars. The redistribution of wealth just continues from the middle class. How about a Federal tax system that is fair? How about a flat 10% tax so the rich don’t loophole their way out of responsibility, and the even the ones making above poverty have to contribute something!
    There are better answers than the ACA and expansion of entitlement spending!

  7. RBD— there are always a few folk who seem to ” live under a rock ” as you suggest. I wonder where in Wyoming the fishbowl you live in is located. The one with the curved glass sides that distorts the view, making things look bigger and wider than they are.
    I suggest you get out of the fishbowl, dry off, and come up to Lovell or Greybull in Big Horn County for a look around. Where are the jobs ? Any jobs at all. You will not find much and certainly not those good paying electrician, welder, framer jobs you allude to that seem to dot the entire Wyoming landscape in your field of view.

    I also just checked the state job listings for any jobs within 75 miles of Cody , where I live. Showed 480 available jobs, but looking closer showed this was a misleading number. By far the greatest number of jobs were for highly skilled folks in the medical industry , and many of those in Billings MT , followed by quite a trucking jobs for those with CDL tags…but most of those , too, were far far away and the companies were trying to recruit in the Big Horn Basin ( for Billings and/or the Bakken , I presume ). Of the actual jobs located in or near enough Cody-Powell to actually commute to there were only menial restaurant jobs…no more or less ” churn” than I see at any time of the year not summer around here. It appears to me offhandedly that the actual unemployment rate in Park County is about 6.5 percent but there are only enough real Park COunty jobs to accomodate a small fraction of jobseekers who aren’t nurses or truckdrivers williing to relocate. The blue collar trades are pretty satiated here. The only jobs come thru attrition. We have no coal mines or sprawling natural gas development in this quadrant of the state. The oil fields are old. Not much manufacturing . The ranches have the usual three shifts working…” about to be hired – actually working – about to be fired ” and that is as it’s always been.

    Truth be told, RBD, the best jobs and most stable component of the workforce in Park County is the federal government and school districts, jobs YOU are paying for out of your own pocket. The Public sector of the payroll in Park County is 38 percent of the workforce, and contains nearly all the better jobs in parallel with the hospitals. We desperately hope the Feds don;t draw down their workforce or the hospitals start downsizing, becuase we’d be entirely dependent on a 2.5 month tourist season around here… Uh oh.

    So tell us, RBD —where is your Wyoming fishbowl located that it shows all the abundance of Help Wanted signs to you ?

  8. When you say Wyoming Lawmakers insult everyone’s intelligence that is wrong.
    The MAJORITY of lawmakers insulted our intelligence. As always in Democracy the MAJORITY rules. Not all lawmakers liked the actions of the MAJORITY.

  9. Drake, if you make more than 100% (not 138% as stated in the article) of the Federal Poverty Level, you qualify for subsidies. Call 211 and get the phone number to a Navigator. They will help you get signed up. People who earn less that 100% of the federal poverty level will get no help unless there is Medicaid expansion but the threshold for subsidies starts at 100% not 138%.

  10. “Many people lost jobs due to the 2008 recession and there aren’t enough good-paying jobs for everyone.”

    Climb out from under the rock please. The jobs are there, you either have to be willing to show up on time and consistently or pass the drug test. Good paying jobs. For example, a quick snapshot:

    – Simon Contractors has all sorts of jobs getting ready for construction season – check out the Feb 2 edition of WTE.
    – Equipment operators for the oil field – up to 20 experienced people, but they also have jobs for trainees. Check out jobs.net
    – Electricians, plumbers, welders – you can write your own ticket if you know how to weld.
    – Framers, construction work – assuming you can pass the drug test

    I could go on an on. These are all good paying jobs. The jobs are there, what business needs is dependable employees, willing to work, willing to make an investment in their long-term careers. Life is hard, we all do not get everything we want, the job we want, but this excuse about not being able to find a job is not due to lack of jobs. There are good paying jobs for people willing to get the skills necessary to compete in the job market.

    It’s about choices. Some people make good choices, some do not. I am all for providing that safety net for those that may not be able to make those choices or for the person that may have made a poor choice – but this country cannot continue this perpetual handout. This country has spent trillions on the war on poverty and where are we at today? 48 million people on food stamps and at the same time the President claiming he has not enlarged the entitlement society…….I’m sorry, but it’s time we start making some hard decisions in this country, not continuing down this path of entitlement. This country provides so much opportunity to those willing to step up and take that opportunity……..