Democracy is Getting in the Way of Legislatures around the Country

Angry protesters

New Orleans  The Freedom House in its annual ranking of democratic practice pushed the United States down the list again this year.  Pundits argue that this is a direct result of life under the autocratic whims of President Trump.  Sadly, that would be a simpler problem to solve with a fixed date in 2020 to take care of the job, but a greater problem has to be closer to the root than that branch of government and can be found in the states where recalcitrant legislatures are refusing to abide by the will of the people.

Of course, for years we have been contending, albeit poorly, with the restrictions on voter access in state after state under Republican control.  After the midterms we saw legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan try to follow the playbook of their buddies in North Carolina by taking away some of the traditional powers of newly elected Democratic governors.  Normally, I would have thought it was harder to do that on an issue, as opposed to an individual politician, because the peoples’ will is expressed so clearly in the votes on such initiative ballots.

In Arkansas, where voters overwhelming approved an increase in the state’s minimum wage that will see $11 per hour in the future, we now have a Republican legislator pushing forward a bill that would take the minimum wage back to $7.25, create a sub-minimum for teens, and probably bring back bonded labor, but I haven’t read the full bill.  He may have overreached so vastly that he tripped himself up.

More than 53% of the voters in Utah approved expansion of Medicaid for people up to 138% of poverty about $16,750 a year for an individual to cover 150,000 people.  In Idaho 60% of voters approved an expansion of Medicaid.  Legislators in both states are now trying to undo the voters’ will and either cap the expansion differently, add barriers, or make the entitlement contingent on state resources like sales taxes.

Reportedly a bill is being rushed through the Utah legislature that would limit the expansion to the poverty level rather than the 138% figure that adds more lower waged working families.  Their plan would knock an estimated 60,000 in the state from the coverage.  In fact, they want to add a work requirement on top of that as well, both in Utah and Idaho.  All of the bad news from Arkansas is that a stringent work requirement is super successful at knocking thousands off of Medicaid.  These western legislatures may not have read the fine print on all of the litigation in Arkansas challenging this clawback.

Washington and Trump’s Center for Medical Services have to give waivers to allow these shenanigans to take effect.  All of the pols claim they are getting good vibes from Washington, but we can hope this is fake news.  Arkansas comes up again like a bad penny in these stories since the state also has a request to be able to cut back the ACA expansion to the poverty line as well. There is nothing about the Affordable Care Act that defines the expansion as only a measure to benefit people at the poverty line.  The heart of the reform is the additional coverage past that line.  If anything, we need to expand the definition of poverty, not push people farther back into poverty.

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The Healthcare Fixes Unfixed, Divide and Conquer on Display

Sofia    There’s no national healthcare in Bulgaria from what I learned in recent discussions, so this is a country where Americans can come to die and feel at home.  Think about that for a minute.  Living costs are relatively low.  Healthcare costs are relatively high.  Is this the world we want?  Perhaps so, because we seem headed for that situation, like it or not, ready or not.

Reading the morning papers on-line and getting past the Trump twitter tirades, the endless Russian hacking stories, and the usual grist for the mill, it was hard to miss a story in the Times that reminded us that no matter what small joy we may have harbored at the failure of the Republican Congress, the Trump project of starving the Affordable Care Act to death is making good solid progress around the land.  Worse for America, but probably great news in the West Wing of the White House is that it is yielding an even more politically beneficial result for the Trumpsters and the right wingnuts:  it’s dividing America even more.

I’ve ranted about the problems of lower waged workers suffering from the Obamacare loopholes and compromises that called them “covered” by the minimum standards of a healthcare plan if they were working for 50+ employee companies when their employers were allowed to say they were offering qualified plans with such absurd $4000 to $6000 deductibles and 9% of monthly income payments that literally NO ONE in many lower waged companies with hundreds of workers were electing coverage since it would suck up a huge portion of their checks when they were making $10 to $15 per hour.  More cynically, they were also barred because they were ostensibly covered by their employers from receiving any of the subsidies or shared cost assistance from the Obamacare marketplaces, so unless their states had expanded Medicaid, they were caught in the gap.   Nothing was sorted out in these years perhaps due to gridlock in Congress and perhaps because who really cares about low wage workers anyway?

Now in the Trump attack on the lower middle class, his starving of Affordable Care is leading, as predicted to soaring price and deductible increases on sketchy plans, almost identical to those faced by lower waged workers.  Families are seeing 50% or more increases in some states, and deductibles running up to $6000 before they are able to get benefits.  Now middle-income families are in the same boat as lower waged service workers where the cost of having insurance is creating a huge, sucking hole in their paychecks.

The shameful difference is that too many, if the Times’ report is to be believed, are not blaming Trump, the Republican Congress, gridlock, or anyone else.  They are blaming lower income families and – painful irony alert – lower waged workers.  Despite the fact that many families in both of these population segments are working their asses off at any and all jobs they can muster, this is now fueling support for even more draconian work requirements for the poor and lower income families access food stamps or even Medicaid benefits.

If that isn’t a master Machiavellian stroke approaching pure evil, what is?  Pretending Trump and his people are corrupt clowns may be satisfying to some, but as the Affordable Care fight shows, we’re in a death match now, and, friends, don’t fool yourself that we’re winning.

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