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Playing a high stakes game of chicken

May 08, 2012

When I was a young boy, one of the favorite activities of my group of friends was to get on our bikes (I was the proud owner of a Schwinn Tornado – a serious muscle bike if there ever was one) and play “chicken,” the game of dare where you would race at each other full speed knowing that you were going to swerve at the last minute to avoid a collision. We would play for hours, taking turns hurtling toward each other, passing so close you could see the excited fear in each others eyes as you whizzed by, and then laughing and retelling somewhat grandiose stories of our heroism on full display, full of bravado and the excitement of the “near miss.”

So when I read of the latest round of debate taking place in the House, pitting increased defense spending without raising taxes against cutting more from domestic programs, including aid to the poor, with tens of billions coming from food stamps, Medicaid and child tax credit refunds, I was reminded of the game of chicken I used to play so many years ago. Only one problem – I expect my congressional representatives to act like responsible adults and not kids playing a game of chicken.

Consider this from the NY Times article yesterday discussing this latest legislative proposal –

  • The new legislation starkly lays out the costs of that pledge. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would push 1.8 million people off food stamps and could cost 280,000 children their school lunch subsidies and 300,000 children their health insurance coverage through the federal and state Children’s Health Insurance Program. Elimination of the social services block grant to state and local governments would hit child abuse prevention programs, Meals on Wheels and child care.
  • A quarter of the cuts in the bill would come from programs for the poor. Cuts to Medicaid, food stamps and subsidized insurance premiums under the health care law make up more than a third of the package’s savings, or $108 billion over 10 years.

It’s election season and the political posturing is in full force. This latest round of chicken appears to be more about shifting cuts from military to domestic programs and not deficit reduction.

Network faithful take note: It is important for all of us to pay attention to the “either – or” messaging that is taking place and becoming more deeply rooted in the national conversation. [Update – the Reconciliation Bill passed on May 10th on a 218 – 199 vote] Be you Republican, Democrat, Independent or anything else – you come to the Network because you care about the welfare of children with emotional challenges and their families. As you engage in conversation with colleagues, family members and just plain folk you meet at your local coffee shop, do your part and break down the debate about health care reform into relevant, simple truths. Here are two to let simmer with your second cup of Joe this morning:

  • Report released today – Virtually Every State Experienced Deteriorating Access to Care for Adults over the Past Decade
    A new research report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has found that access to health care for adults is declining, and most telling, the gap in care is more pronounced in states where political leaders oppose implementation of the Affordable Care Act. States with higher un-insurance rates have worse access to care. The report states that “it appears that the health care safety net that is designed, in part, to serve those without coverage is not acting as an effective substitute for health insurance”… suggesting that “the potential benefits of the coverage expansion in the ACA are large and exist in every state. The analysis also suggests that states that intentionally delay ACA implementation or are less aggressive in seeking to enroll people on Medicaid or subsidized exchange plans will not see the potential benefits of the ACA as soon as states that move more aggressively to expand coverage.” The study’s authors concluded the “the repeal of the ACA, or a Supreme Court decision that blocks its key provisions, would likely result in continued deterioration in access for adults in almost all states.” Download the report here. Read a Kaiser Health news article about the report here. By the way, if you have read Jonathan Gruber’s excellent comic book on health care reform you know that this scenario fits the perfect prescription for higher cost if left as is and lower cost if the ACA is implemented

  • State Mental Health Cuts: The Continuing Crisis
    Okay, the second truth is even closer to home for the Network. In November, 2011, NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, released State Mental Health Cuts: The Continuing Crisis, a report documenting deep cuts to state spending on services for children and adults living with serious mental illness. These cuts, which occurred between 2009 and 2011, led to significant reductions in both hospital and community services for vulnerable individuals with serious mental illness. For those of you who work or are involved with children and youth who do not have a serious mental illness, still pay attention – there is much to extrapolate from the findings. One of the many alarming findings in the report are the number of states who are making deep cuts to Medicaid. From the report – “Medicaid changes of this nature result in restrictions in Medicaid eligibility criteria, limits on optional services covered in state Medicaid programs and cuts in already low provider payment rates. These restrictions translate into further limits on already scarce services…” 

Network faithful take note – These two simple fact-based truths make the current posturing in the House mystifying to say the least. We are committed to keep bringing these fact-based truths (the best kind of truth) to you so you, in turn, can use them in your education efforts with whomever you can get an audience.

Ah yes, playing chicken was fun as a child, when the greatest consequence was a bruised knee from a fall or a bruised ego from being the first to flinch. The consequences are much greater in the current debate about the deficit and health care reform.

Enjoy the zen…

Scott Bryant-Comstock

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