By Tess Danielson
Imagine, if you will, the setting of a third world country. A hot, cracked wasteland, where what wasn’t killed off by brush fires suffocated in a scorching atmosphere. Picture a place rampant with disease and STDs, where the government acknowledges the desperate, dying poor, but instead fights for business profits. Envision a community where public schools are in need of billions in funding while the army receives millions for the latest technology. Now, let’s play a game. Where do you think this place is? Africa? The Middle East? How about the middle of the United States? This is Texas, and while I may (scratch that, definitely) have gone a bit over the top with my interpretation of the Loner Star state, there was a point to it.
So, for the desolate wasteland I painted Texas as, you would expect a crumbling economy, but in fact, Texas is doing quite well financially. This year, they managed a budget surplus of $8.8 billion, coming as a shock to many after 2010 and 2011’s embarrassing budget shortfalls. So how did Texas do it? Well, by being able to enact all the laws and regulations that Republicans in Washington want on a Federal level.
In the Fiscal Cliff debate, it is pretty well known what Republicans in Congress want: cuts to “entitlement” programs (whoever hired Frank Luntz again needs to refresh their political strategy), no new taxes, and a friendlier business environment (along with some idiotic idea to import more highly educated workers, instead of funding American education. Thanks for the faith in us!)
Though they do have a list of plans (with plenty of pictures, of course), cutting social programs such as: Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare (the three big names in the Fiscal Cliff debate) appears to be at the top of the Conservative platform. Republicans believe luring more investors and businesses to America will fix the deficit, which makes sense, since the deficit is all about revenue, but it is the way they phrase their argument that is a little off-putting. As Speaker of the House John Boehner put it in a letter to the President, “these reforms are, in our view, absolutely essential to addressing the true drivers of our debt…”
So how does all this relate back to Texas? Well, in my opinion, Texas could be considered the poster child for Conservative politics. This makes it a good place to look at the outcome of Conservative ideas and policies. The state has consistently followed a smaller government platform, which is what Capital Hill Republicans are fighting for.
The State has already implemented many of the cuts Republicans are seeking to make on a Federal level. Health and social programs, as well as education, took a brutal blow after Texas’ 2010-2011 budget catastrophe, where the state managed a shortfall of $27 billion in 2 years. Overall, health and human services lost $9 billion, while schools saw a $4 billion reduction to their funding. (Texas school districts are currently suing the state for not providing enough funding to fulfill its obligations according to the state Constitution.)
While some may gasp, others may simply respond with, “it worked”. Cutting these programs actually succeeded in helping balance the budget, and even led to a surplus, but (and, believe me, there are a lot of buts) at what social and long-term economic cost?
Setting aside the effects of slashing school funding (which absolutely influences Texas’ current state, but I’m doing my best to stay on topic), the effects of gutting programs like Medicaid have been devastating to the community. Right now, 25 percent of the population does not have health insurance. The Texas Medical Association (TMA) has called Texas “the uninsured capital of the United States.
This is reflected in Texas’ overall general health. In 2010, The Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) recorded “fair to poor” health conditions of the population. The survey showed 17.4 percent of the Texas population was at risk for not being in good general health. But as the figures are broken down, there is a very obvious trend, which is where the importance of things like Medicaid comes in. Nearly 35 percent of Texans who made less than $25,000 a year, were at the lower end of the spectrum of general health, and the number jumped to 37 percent for those without a high school diploma (Texas has the highest percent of citizens without a high school diploma in the U.S.).
The main problem is not that people are getting sick; it is the action they take when they get sick. Those who lack education and a solid cash flow make up the majority of those getting sick. So there is no surprise at the high number of people who forego seeking medical treatment when ill. TDSHS also reported an astounding 40 percent of people making less than $25,000 a year went without seeing a doctor because of cost. The young (25.5 percent) and under-educated (34.8 percent) also had a higher chance of not seeking treatment.
So not only does a quarter of the population not have health insurance, but they are sick, and not getting any better. This is a simple math problem, people: the result is Texans are unnecessarily dying.
Governor Rick Perry (R) and his constituents have made a solid stance against expanding the Texas Medicaid program. But their noble attempts to protect Texans’ “freedoms” only hurt those who rely on them the most. Dr. Howard Brody, director of the Institute for Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said that this would result in about 9,000 unnecessary deaths a year in Texas.
The Texas Observer gave these details on how this figure was calculated:
…Lack of insurance will certainly mean more deaths. How many more? Approximately 9,000 a year, according to Dr. Howard Brody…Brody calculated that figure by extrapolating from a recent Harvard University study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that found that states that expanded Medicaid saw a 6.1 percent reduction in the death rate among adults below 65 who qualified for the program. In a recent op-ed in the Galveston Daily News Brody wrote, ‘This means that we can predict, with reasonable confidence, if we fail to expand Medicaid . . . 9,000 Texans will die each year for the next several years as a result.’
Even with the health community pleading for aid, people like Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are insisting Medicaid expansion is off the table “at the present time.”
So what is the Republican solution to the uninsured? They directed a quarter of the Texas population to the emergency room. Only one problem, especially for a party that hates taxing: they do not seem to think about what kind of bill over 6 million people can rack up.
The Daily Beast reported that in 2006, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, hospitals in Texas had a total of $11.6 billion in uncompensated care expenses. In 2008, the number jumped to $13.6 billion, and is only expected to grow.
Republicans in Texas seem to think these bills are just shoved in a shoebox and disappear, but if Texans looked closer at their taxes, they would see they have paid, and will always continue to pay, for the uninsured.
A story in the New York Times reported on Travis County, which requires property owners to fund the Travis County Healthcare District. The county pays clinics $133 for every patient 200 percent below the poverty line. This equals out to $79 for every $100,000 in value to its residents. It is not getting any better, either: the county’s cost have consistently grown over the past 4 years.
According to a Tax Policy Report by Billy Hamilton of Texas Tax TRUTH, currently, Texas pays the highest property rate among Americans, but to be fair, taxing rates are left up to voters. Texans pay no income tax, but they are feeling the effects of it. Local governments have pleaded with voters to increase tax rates. 84 percent of local Texas governments rely on tax for funding, and between schools and hospitals bordering on bankruptcy, there is not enough money to go around.
So, I think it can be undoubtedly said the Republican Fiscal Cliff plan of cutting “entitlement” programs has potential to work, but this country is not a bottom line. At what cost is Congress willing to gut the so-called “spending beast”? This isn’t about freedom (Perry!), this is about the fact that people are dying who do not need to. The Federal government has an important role to play; we just have to learn to compromise. Yes we spend too much, but when there are other options to make up our debt, why would we give the final blow to those who are already suffering. When Conservatives in Washington back plans to cut social programs, they are doing more than showing their true political colors; they are showing their souls.