by Bob Herbert
If you want to see “compassionate” conservatism in action, take a look at Mississippi, a state that is solidly in the red category (strong for Bush) and committed to its long tradition of keeping the poor and the unfortunate in as ragged and miserable a condition as possible.
How’s this for compassion? Mississippi has approved the deepest cut in Medicaid eligibility for senior citizens and the disabled that has ever been approved anywhere in the U.S.
The new policy will end Medicaid eligibility for some 65,000 low-income senior citizens and people with severe disabilities — people like Traci Alsup, a 36-year-old mother of three who was left a quadriplegic after a car accident.
The cut in eligibility for seniors and the disabled was the most dramatic component of a stunning rollback of services in Mississippi’s Medicaid program. The rollback was initiated by the Republican-controlled State Senate and Mississippi’s new governor, Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the national Republican Party. When he signed the new law on May 26, Mr. Barbour complained about taxpayers having to “pay for free health care for people who can work and take care of themselves and just choose not to.”
The governor is free to characterize the victims of the cuts as deadbeats if he wants to. Others have described them as patients suffering from diseases like cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s, and people incapacitated by diabetes or heart disease or various forms of paralysis, and individuals struggling with the agony of schizophrenia or other forms of serious mental illness.
The 65,000 seniors and disabled individuals who will lose their Medicaid eligibility have incomes so low they effectively have no money to pay for their health care. The new law coldly reduces the maximum income allowed for an individual to receive Medicaid in Mississippi from an impecunious $12,569 per year to a beggarly $6,768.
Many of the elderly recipients have Medicare coverage, but their Medicare benefits in most cases will not come close to meeting their overall requirements — which include huge prescription drug bills, doctor visits and often long-term care.
According to the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, which is coordinating an effort to somehow maintain the Medicaid coverage: “The people affected are low-income retirees now subsisting on Social Security or other pension benefits and people who have permanent disabilities that prevent them from being able to work.”
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