Leading officials from the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, and the American Lung Association spoke Tuesday in a teleconference about potential cuts to Medicaid as Families USA, a health care consumer group, released a report detailing the impact Medicaid has on Minnesotans.
These officials are concerned, and rightly so, about what would happen if Congress takes a deficit-cutting whack at Medicaid this winter.
And like it or not, the fate of programs like Medicaid have been left in the hands of what is called the "super committee" - 12 members of Congress (six Republicans and six Democrats) who are in charge of keeping America out of financial ruin. The committee's task is to come up with $1.5 trillion or so in deficit reduction measures during the next 10 years. As of today, they have about seven weeks to do it. Their deadline is Nov. 23, and within a month of that date, a congressional vote will take place.
A stalemate would trigger $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts.
Clearly this "super committee" is on the hottest of seats and has plenty of work ahead of it. But Medicaid, we hope, is one area, that is spared.
According to Families USA, in Minnesota alone there are more than 13,000 cancer patients on Medicaid, including 390 children and 4,400 seniors. Also, almost 45,000 Minnesotans on Medicaid receive treatment for diabetes, an estimated 111,560 Minnesotans with chronic lung disease like asthma rely on Medicaid coverage, and more than 123,000 Minnesota residents depend on Medicaid for treatment of heart disease or stroke.
Cutting Medicaid "would have a big impact on economic health as well," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. "The average cost for hospitalization for heart attack victims nationwide is about $63,000, so obviously for somebody who does not have coverage, this could cause enormous economic hardship that could ultimately lead to bankruptcy."
The numbers in Minnesota alone are staggering and paint a pretty clear picture that the "super committee" should do all it can to take Medicaid cuts off the table. It will have some tough decisions to make and might even have to make some political sacrifices in order to spare Medicaid, but when you consider how many people rely on Medicaid, it seems to be the right thing to do.
Congress has until Dec. 23 to vote on whatever proposals the "super committee" comes up with. Chances are, Congress won't vote until the 11th hour, which could be the equivalent of a big lump of coal in many sick people's stocking this Christmas. On the other hand, they could give all those suffering people a pretty nice Christmas gift by leaving Medicaid alone.