Four days before Christmas and Hanukah, Congress has passed a Scrooge-like “Deficit Reduction Act” that protects special interests in the health care industry over the 80 million Americans who obtain health coverage through the Medicaid and Medicare programs. This legislation provides a crystal-clear snapshot of Congressional and White House priorities in health care policy – protecting drug companies and health insurers while stripping protections and support from poor and sick Americans.
Under this legislation, lower-income Americans will pay more for less coverage. For example, states will be able to charge families higher premiums for health care coverage and impose higher cost-sharing charges on some family members. This means that people who need hospital care could pay $160 per day in coinsurance. It also means that many people with Medicaid will lose their health care coverage altogether, as they struggle to pay new premiums and bear new health care costs that the federal and state governments have shifted to their over-stretched family budgets.
This budget bill also requires older Americans to pay higher Medicare premiums, and makes it harder for people who need Medicaid’s help with their long-term care costs to qualify for coverage. States will be able to substitute commercial-style benefit packages for current Medicaid benefits that are tailored to lower-income people’s needs – so children will no longer be guaranteed that they can receive all medically necessary services, while coverage for critical services like prescription drugs and mental health services can actually be skimpier than commercial insurance packages. America’s children, families, elders, and people with disabilities will be worse off under this budget bill.
Health insurers and drug manufacturers, however, will not be harmed. The conferees left on the table $42 billion in savings, over ten years, from Medicare HMOs and Medicaid pharmaceutical company payments. Somehow, these savings were not needed as conferees sought to exercise discipline over federal health care spending. Surely if Congress can – without any apparent shame – ask low-income Americans to pay more for their health care, Congress also could have asked health insurance companies and drug makers to make some sacrifices.
In defiance of the holiday spirit, Congress has required lower-income Americans to pay more for skimpier health care. This holiday season, well-off Americans will be able to give thanks for their good fortune, but lower-income Americans will be looking forward to stretching their personal and family budgets beyond the breaking point. If Congress and the White House had exercised more compassion for regular Americans, and less compassion for their industry allies, more American families could be celebrating throughout the holidays.
Read more: Congress Passes Budget Bill, Cuts Support for Nation’s Neediest