Monday, November 19, 2012
How You Know When an Election Is Over
You know when an election in Connecticut is over when virtually all incumbent Democrats are re-elected to office, after having been fulsomely endorsed by much of the state’s left of center media, and when, several days after the election, bad news headlines begin to appear in Connecticut’s only state-wide newspaper: “State’s Medicaid Costs Soar, Projected Budget Deficit Attributed In Part to Expanded Coverage.” That headline appeared in a Hartford paper as a front page above the fold story a little less than two weeks after the election.
According to the story, we discover that the state’s $365 million budget deficit “dates, in part, to two years ago when Connecticut became the first state to expand medical coverage to low-income adults as an early adopter of federal health care reform.” The federal health care reform program is Obamacare. The architects of Obamacare were careful to front load the program with alluring benefits; payments for the alluring benefits were deferred until after the election.
That would be – now.
Two years ago, Connecticut was plowing the field in preparation for Obamacare. In 2010, we discover from the story: “Connecticut had the largest percentage increase of any state in Medicaid enrollment among low-income adults — a 32 percent jump,” not an insignificant bump on the spending Richter scale.
Governor Dannel Malloy’s budget hawk Ben Barnes, secretary of the state's Office of Policy and Management, must have felt the tremors long ago. Asked to account for the Malloy $365 million budget deficit – the governor prefers to think of it as an easily backfilled “shortfall” – Mr. Barnes said, “The number of people enrolled in that program has shot up.” He also notes, “One, the economy has been poor. More people have been impoverished as a result of high unemployment, things of that nature."
How long ago did Mr. Barnes sense the economy was underperforming? Long, long ago. The economy was underperforming, President Barack Obama never tires of reminding us, since the Bush recession; that would be more than four years ago.
Under the enlightened leadership of Mr. Malloy, Connecticut had been stuffing the state’s revenue sock since the governor presented his first SEBAC inspired budget, which included a massive boost in taxes – the largest increase, in fact, in the state’s history. And a new healthcare exchange was inaugurated in the state long ago to prepare for Obamacare, promoted by Democrats during their campaigns as a more prudent less expensive health care instrument.
Tilling the field for Obamacare, Connecticut shelved its old heath care system, State Administered General Assistance (SAGA), and instituted a new Medicaid Low Income Adult program (HUSKY Part D) in 2010. Under the old system, SAGA serviced people from ages 21 to 64; under the new Medicaid Low Income Adult program the eligibility age was lowered two years to19, thus increasing the number of health care consumers. Under SAGA, benefits were extended only to people who held less than $1,000 in assets, though beneficiaries were permitted to own a home and a car worth $4,500 or less. As Mr. Barnes put it, “You could essentially have one crummy, old car and no money in the bank, or a couple hundred dollars in the bank, and still qualify. But if you had any assets at all [apart from the crummy old car and a house] then you didn't qualify. You had to spend down those assets on medical services before you were eligible. So, that ruled some people out of eligibility."
Under the Obama-Malloy-Barnes new health care system, limits on assets were eliminated – would Linda McMahon qualify? – benefits are more “robust” (translation: more expensive) and the program kicks in at an earlier age. These “improvements” necessarily increase the cost of the program. Connecticut has not yet received from Washington a waiver filed last summer that would impose a $10,000 asset eligibility test for the Medicaid program for low-income adults, and the federal government, currently reimbursing Connecticut for 50 percent of the program, will not reimburse the state fully under the Affordable Care Act until 2014.
Why then, should anyone be surprised that the new Medicaid Low Income Adult program has kicked a hole in Connecticut’s budget bucket?
The post-election story in the Hartford paper helpfully provided the relevant statistics: “In two years, Medicaid enrollment by low-income adults has grown from fewer than 50,000 to more than 83,000, greatly outpacing the state's expectations, according to state figures. Total Medicaid enrollment was 588,488 at the end of the last fiscal year in June, up 13,676 in a year.”
Surely the state figures were available to both Mr. Malloy and Mr. Barnes. Two years is 730 days, a little less than 105 weeks, 8,760 hours in which to ponder projected costs, Mr. Barnes’ specialty.
Here is the truth: Everybody knew, much before the elections, that Obamacare would cost the states millions of dollars. Mr. Obama knew, Mr. Malloy knew, Mr. Barnes knew, all the Democrats in both national and state legislatures knew, publishers of newspapers knew, newspaper editors who endorsed here in Connecticut every single incumbent Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation knew, every incumbent Democrat in Connecticut congressional delegation knew. Everyone but voters -- prior to the election -- knew that Connecticut was marching lemming-like towards the edge of a fiscal cliff, piped in that direction by sweet talking politicians with more curves in their courses than a slinky.
And now -- after all Connecticut incumbent Democrats have been tucked into their comfortable sinecures -- the rest of us are, at long last, permitted to know.
Should a media that allows itself to be so misused any longer be permitted to call itself free – or even useful?
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