Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Will That Be Cash, Charge, Or Would You Like To Be My Servant For a Year?

Poverty has been a problem, not only for America, but for societies the world over since the invention of money. The smartest people operating in the most enlightened of times using the full powers of their imaginations and resources have been unable to bring about the end of this devastating condition.

Then along came the New Hampshire Legislature. "We looked at poverty programs all over the country and they all had one thing in common," said State Representative Neal Kurk, "They assumed that people were poor because they didn't have any money. I say, what if people are poor because they live in substandard housing, have low paying jobs, or no jobs at all, and lack resources to change their situation?"

Under his legislation New Hampshire will the only state in the nation to charge its poorest parents for health insurance for children under the state-federal Medicaid program. "Look at it this way, Representative Kurk explained, "Health care is expensive for the state to provide. If poor people pay for it instead, then they aren't poor anymore because they're paying and the state isn't. Presto! Two problems solved with one piece of legislation. We expect it will be a national model."

The state also is proposing to exclude working poor families who have too many assets from a separate Healthy Kids insurance program for working parents. When asked what the definition of 'too many assets' was, Representative Kurk replied, "Oh, you know. clothes they're not wearing. too much food in the refrigerator, a house with walls, stuff like that."

Supporters of the New Hampshire proposals say tough fiscal times demand tough solutions. "We've been molly coddling the poor for too long," said one advocate, "It's time they paid their own way. I mean what are they, broke or something?"

"In order to balance the budget, you do all sorts of things," said Kurk, who believes the poor should be more responsible for their care. "The problem is real. The solution we've come up with is probably not as good as it needs to be because, you know, people will starve to death and stuff. Plus sick kids won't get any care, but hey, no solution's going to be perfect."

The proposed monthly Medicaid premium would be $10 to $20 per child depending on family income. Families with no income would still be asked to pay. When asked how families with no income could pay for health care, an aide to Representative Kurk said, "We're still working on that. Probably using money is out of the question, huh?"

Other states are struggling to cut Medicaid, which is on track to eclipse education as the biggest single expense for states. Last year, Washington state got federal permission to charge some Medicaid families premiums, but has not done so. "We think those folks in Washington are a bunch of wusses," said an assistant to Representative Kurk. "Times are tough. Poor folks' money is just as green as rich folks' money. And they vote less often. That's all I'm saying."

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