Opinion

Mean-spirited doesn't begin to describe plan

Friday, February 20, 2004

Woo-hoo! Missouri can save up to $36 million annually, the House budget chairman said this week. Sounds like a great deal, doesn't it? It is -- as long as your checking account is sufficiently flush, or perhaps if you happen to be from a wealthy St. Louis suburb like Rep. Carl Bearden.

To "rein in" the growth in Medicaid spending, the Republican leader has put forward a plan that would eliminate an estimated 38,000 adults and about 10,000 children from Medicaid coverage. To break it down, that's like eliminating two entire Saline counties from assistance with their medical bills including visits to doctors and prescription medication.

If approved, the plan would end benefits to any adult earning more than 50 percent of the federal poverty level -- $7,630 a year for a family of three (a little more than $635 per month). Hey, somebody raking in that much money shouldn't have a problem paying for medicine -- and a place to live, food, taxes, etc., should they?

Oh, if you happen to be a parent facing ever-increasing premiums for health insurance you could also find it extremely challenging to take part in the MC+ for Kids program for uninsured children. To qualify for MC+ families would be limited to $1,000 in assets per person -- not including a house, car, prepaid burial plan and household furnishings.

Reading a summary of Bearden's proposal, I'm struck by the fact that even Democrats' criticism of it as shortsighted and mean-spirited isn't nearly angry enough. What we've seen in this and other proposals floated in Jefferson City is the equivalent of a giant sign at every state border reading "Welcome to Missouri, where poor people don't count for anything."

Poor people don't contribute to election campaigns. They don't back lobbyists who roam the General Assembly hallways patting backs and offering a way to round out a golfing foursome. But if we're going to remember the state's supposed motto, which implores that the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law, then we'd better get some leaders who understand that poverty is not a sin, nor should any Missourian be held in contempt.