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The Republican plan to cut federal spending would cut Medicare

The end of pandemic emergency measures and conservative efforts to cut government spending are poised to put quality care even further out of reach. A sicker population is bad for the economy and the health sector.

Texas has the nation’s highest rate of uninsured people because the Republican-dominated government opposes expanding Medicaid, the health care program for low-income and disabled people. Although the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs, GOP lawmakers don’t want to expand the safety net since 39 more states must include the working poor.

700,000 Texans could soon lose their Medicaid when a COVID pandemic emergency rule expires, the Episcopal Health Foundation warns.

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Texas’ Medicaid program is already among the tightest, limiting coverage to 3.2 million children and about 1.1 million older, pregnant, disabled or parenting adults. Unlike other states, Texas lawmakers refuse to offer Medicaid to adults who don’t qualify for Obamacare.

During the pandemic, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ordered states to suspend the requirement that Medicaid recipients reapply annually. But that suspension is over, and those on Medicaid have until March 31 to reapply.

“Children would be the largest group that could lose health insurance,” said Laura Dague, an associate professor at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government. “Although most enrolled children will still be eligible for coverage, the potential for large-scale loss of coverage exists due to confusion.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission issued an alert this week asking recipients to reapply.

“Our priority right now is to promote awareness and help our customers understand the timeline and steps to take to redetermine eligibility,” said Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young.

Republicans in Congress, however, pose a long-term danger to Medicaid and Medicare, the health care program for those over 65.

A group of fringe Republicans is holding the US economy hostage in exchange for cuts to the federal budget. If people like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida don’t get significant cuts, they’ll oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, allow the federal government to pay off its debts, or both.

For a glimpse of what they have in mind, check out the Republican Study Committee’s “Plan to Save America.” GOP lawmakers promise the plan would “balance the federal budget in just seven years, cut spending by $16.6 trillion over 10 years, and cut Americans’ taxes by $3.9 trillion, while increasing investments in our military by 5 percent.”

Medicare and Medicaid are among the largest segments of the federal budget, and Congress cannot balance the budget without cutting them or raising taxes.

Republicans would cut the federal share of Medicaid funding to 31% from 62%. Under the current budget, Texas lawmakers would have to increase Medicaid spending to $61 billion from $25.1 billion to maintain existing services, eliminating the state’s current surplus.

The most disturbing proposal, however, is to reduce Medicare costs from 3.2% of the nation’s economic activity to 2.6%. Republicans would raise the eligibility age from 62 to 70 in 2040. The minimum age to collect Social Security would also increase to 70.

These proposals come as the life expectancy of Americans is falling. Maternal deaths remain shameful.

I agree with the Republicans that Texas and the United States spend too much on health care for what we get. The problem is not needy patients, however, but greedy companies.

Cutting government spending will not bring down prices that are so high that they generate huge profits and massive waste in every corner of the industry. Whether it’s overtreatment by doctors, overburdening hospitals, eliminating pharmaceutical benefit managers, or patent gambling by pharmaceutical companies, there are many places to cut costs through a greater competition and regulation.

Profiteering by the health care industry costs us all, whether it’s in higher taxes, insurance premiums, or out-of-pocket costs. Cutting government spending will only make people sicker with more complicated conditions that are more expensive to treat.

The economy depends on a healthy workforce that pays taxes and consumes goods. Improving health should take priority over misguided cost-cutting.

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