Sunday, November 06, 2005

Healthcare's Daily Katrinas

Coming hard on the heels of news that Republicans intend financing the next round of rich people's tax cuts by ending healthcare for 6 million children comes a report that over 4,000 families, victims of Hurricane Katrina, are still slipping through the cracks in the existing system.

Michelle Chen at The New Standard reports that Bush's plan to afford healthcare to Katrina survivors is...well...crap.

Through a special waiver program, the Department of Health and Human Services has authorized states to provide Medicaid to Katrina survivors, based on existing eligibility guidelines that cover families, the elderly and the disabled. But these provisions leave out many poor adults, including those who have lost jobs and employer-sponsored healthcare plans due to the hurricane.

Medicaid enrollment patterns in Louisiana’s hurricane-shelter population indicate that even in their native state, a large portion of people seeking assistance will be shut out of the system. A state-led outreach effort in shelters, which ended last month, found that nearly one in every five survivors who requested Medicaid was rejected during initial eligibility screenings because they did not fit Medicaid requirements.

Tara Lachney, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, reported that of about 6,900 remaining households that progressed to the application process, nearly 60 percent were denied coverage, or had their applications shelved "in hopes that we would be able to cover them under a future program."

But the plight of these survivors is not unique - it's just the tip of the iceberg. Even though every healthcare professional involved says the current system is "running on fumes", Republicans have used Katrina as an excuse to justify budget cuts for Medicaid and food stamps rather than a spur to highlight poverty and bolster safety-net programs which are currently failing from lack of funding. Anthony Iton, public-health officer for Alameda County, California – which has absorbed about 1,200 Katrina evacuees, most from New Orleans – sees the daily struggle to care for survivors as part of a more troubling syndrome. "It’s not the lack of a healthcare system," he said. "It’s the lack of core investments in critical social resources for everybody."

Democrats on the Hill need to make this a daily issue. They need to be telling the American people in no uncertain terms that their healthcare system is broken and that the Republicans don't care as long as they themselves are alright. Democrats need to be banging the drum, telling everyone that "the bottom line is, you know, we’re dealing with daily Katrinas."

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