Monday, August 19, 2013

Why Are We Dragging Our Feet On The Affordable Care Act?

An editorial in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram today seems to be decrying the high taxes Wisconsin residents pay and blaming it on high Medicaid costs, primarily to care for the medical needs of the poor, the disabled, and elderly (in nursing homes). No doubt much of the tax burden Wisconsin residents bear is related to those costs the author cites. But in the end he offers no solutions, only the implied suggestion that we are impoverished in our state because of these mounting costs. He cites an income tax rate in Wisconsin of 11.8% or $4,999 per person, 17th highest in the nation and 4% above the national average.

Those are scary statistics for anyone who doesn’t take them apart a little bit. First, though the tax rate is 11.8% few people ever pay that amount. I think my rate would be under 5% after I’ve taken legitimate deductions. And I doubt that the figure of $4,999 per person comes from dividing the actual income tax revenue in one year by the number of Wisconsin residents. More likely it is also a hypothetical figure base on the assumption that everyone pays that 11.8% rate.

There are many ways to make ourselves look poor. It is interesting that we try very hard to impress the world of our success, by wearing the latest fashions, having the latest gadgets, living in the finest neighborhoods in the most beautiful houses, driving luxurious autos, vacationing in the most popular places, eating at the most popular restaurants, but when it comes to paying taxes we are broke, we can’t afford to pay an nickel more, a 1% increase would drive us to the poor house. Significantly, a great number of those who decry our high taxes, both rich and poor, pay no income taxes at all.

I see evidence of great wealth in this country. Just this week I toured the Big Rig display at the Chippewa Valley Technical College and saw extremely expensive rigs that were decked out for no purpose except for show. You can see the same thing at tractor pulls and, of course as you drive down the highway passing and being passed by heavy duty pickup trucks towing expensive boats and other recreational equipment. The fact that you must stand in line at any good restaurant to get a seat during noon hour or supper indicates that our citizens have money to spend. Our stadiums are filled each week with patrons paying hundreds of dollars for seats, and exorbitant prices for food and liquor. We aren't as hard up as we seem to think we are.

But we do have poverty. We just don't see it. It is hidden in the rundown areas of our town and countrysides. You can find it at the free clinic in Eau Claire any time you wish to visit it. You can find it in the emergency rooms of our hospitals. You can find it at the food kitchens and the used clothing stores (although some of them have priced themselves out of the "poor" market too). The poor are often walking or riding our city buses or struggling to keep rattletrap vehicles running. The poor send their children to school to get one good meal a day on free or subsidized lunch programs.

Why are they poor? Admittedly many are poor because of low education, drug and alcohol abuse, dysfunctional and abusive backgrounds. But there are others who are working one or two jobs to keep their families fed but still hardly break the $20,000 per year barrier. Try to prosper on that. Try to buy decent health insurance on that. Impossible.

So are there solutions? I don't know about solutions but there are things we could do that too many in our society are unwilling to do, are actually fighting against doing. Our Governor's decision to snub "Obamacare" is just one of the ways we are voting to keep our local (state) costs higher than they need to be. His, and his legislative partners' blind and stubborn resistance to anything tainted with "Obamaism" makes it impossible to move beyond the disastrous scenario I've painted above.

What we have needed for many years is what some call a "single payer" health system. Every person over 65 in this country already has that in Medicare and most of them would kill to keep it. Veterans all over our country have access to a medical system that is wholly government run and they, too, would kill to keep it. Both systems deliver health care at costs dramatically lower than the private system all other citizens have - if they can afford to have anything at all.

In our present political climate we will never have a single payer plan for all Americans. Its opponents have successfully poisoned that well beyond the point of recovery. But we can get behind the Affordable Care Act and make it work for all of us. It is a crime that we are not doing so.

With only a couple of months left until citizens can begin signing up for low cost health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, newspapers like the Leader Telegram need to be running public service pieces informing people about the plan and how they can get signed up for the services available to them. But it seems that they are cowed by the pressure of the conservative right, or perhaps are in agreement with it, and won't even explain to the American public a law passed by its national legislature intended to benefit all citizens. Shame on the media for its poor record in this regard.

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