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“The South’s New Lost Cause”: A Mason-Dixon Line Of Health Care Dispair

Before he was immortalized for saving the union, freeing the slaves and giving the best political speech in American history, Abraham Lincoln was just an unpopular new president handed a colossal crisis. Elected with 39.7 percent of the vote, Lincoln told a big lie in his inaugural address of 1861.

“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists,” he said, reaching out to the breakaway South. “I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

He was saying to a Confederacy that would enshrine owning another human being in its new constitution: If you like the slaves you’ve got now, you can keep them. It was a lie in the sense that Lincoln made a promise, changed by circumstances, that he broke less than two years later — and probably never meant to keep.

The comparisons of President Obama to Lincoln fade with every day of the shrinking modern presidency. As for the broken-promise scale: Lincoln said an entire section of the country could continue to enslave more than one in three of its people. Obama wrongly assured about five million people that they could keep their bare-bones health plans if they liked them (later amended when it turned out not to be true).

As inapt as those comparisons are, what is distressingly similar today is how the South is once again committed to taking a backward path. By refusing to expand health care for the working poor through Medicaid, which is paid for by the federal government under Obamacare, most of the old Confederacy is committed to keeping millions of its own fellow citizens in poverty and poor health. They are dooming themselves, further, as the Left-Behind States.

And they are doing it out of spite. Elsewhere, the expansion of Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, has been one of the few success stories of Obamacare. It may be too complicated for the one-dimensional Beltway press. Either that, or it doesn’t fit the narrative of failure.

But in the states that have embraced a program that reaches out to low-wage workers, almost 500,000 people have signed up for health care in less than two months time. This is good for business, good for state taxpayers (because the federal government is subsidizing the expansion) and can do much to lessen the collateral damages of poverty, from crime to poor diets. In Kentucky, which has bravely tried to buck the retrograde tide, Medicaid expansion is projected to create 17,000 jobs. In Washington, the state predicts 10,000 new jobs and savings of $300 million in the first 18 months of expansion.

Beyond Medicaid, the states that have diligently tried to make the private health care exchanges work are putting their regions on a path that will make them far more livable, easing the burden of crippling, uninsured medical bills — the leading cause of personal bankruptcy.

And those states aren’t going to turn back the clock and revert to the bad old days, no matter how Republicans try to kill health care reform in the wake of the federal rollout. Many are refusing to accept Obama’s “fix” of allowing people to keep sketchy health care policies. If they follow the pattern of Massachusetts — where a mere 123 people enrolled in the first month of Romneycare, after which it gradually took off — the progressive states could end up with more than 95 percent of their residents insured.

What we could see, 10 years from now, is a Mason-Dixon line of health care. One side (with exceptions for conservative Midwest and mountain states) would be the insured North, a place where health care coverage was affordable and available to most people. On the other side would be the uninsured South, where health care for the poor would amount to treating charity cases in hospital emergency rooms.

Texas, where one in four people have no health care and Gov. Rick Perry proudly resists extending the Medicaid helping hand to the working poor, would be the leading backwater in this Dixie of Despair. In the 11 states of the old Confederacy, only Arkansas and Tennessee are now open to Medicaid expansion.

The South, already the poorest region in the country, with all the attendant problems, would acquire another distinction — a place where, if you were sick and earned just enough money that you didn’t qualify for traditional Medicare, you might face the current system’s version of a death panel.

The only good news is that a handful of political leaders down South have grasped the utter stupidity of refusing to help their own people, or even giving the state exchanges a chance. In this month’s recent special election for a congressional seat in a solidly Republican Louisiana district, a pragmatic businessman, Vance McAllister, beat a Tea Party candidate with the full Obama derangement syndrome. The winner said Obamacare was the law of the land and might as well be applied in Louisiana, the nation’s third poorest state. (It didn’t hurt that he had the backing of a “Duck Dynasty” star.)

But most of the South is defiant — their own Lost Cause for the 21st century.


By: Timothy Egan, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, November 21, 2013

November 23, 2013 - Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Confederacy | , , , , , , ,

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