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EDITORIAL: They threaten your health


WITHOUT KNOWING IT, he called on the worst possible day of the week. Wednesday is when we assemble this newspaper. It’s the day I put my trust in the power of panic to overcome chaos. The caller, a county resident and subscriber said the paper’s editorials have become too liberal and that we–I–should be more conservative. This has been the subject of previous editorials, and with so little time to chat I was hoping to hear a new complaint.

He said I was disrespectful toward President Trump and he questioned why the president’s actions were local news. I cited climate change and I think we were both surprised we agreed the president was wrong to withdraw from the Paris climate change accords. But on healthcare he immediately condemned Obamacare, saying nobody has to do without healthcare in this country because people can always go to the emergency room. I wish we could have talked more but my schedule is a stern master.

Healthcare is as local as issues get. Take the healthcare bill unveiled by Senate Republicans this week, which President Trump supports. If adopted the bill would undermine healthcare services for the most vulnerable people here in Columbia County: children, people with disabilities and the elderly. It would strain healthcare resources, including Columbia Memorial Health. Imagine living in a rural community with no nearby emergency room.

Monday evening Governor Cuomo arranged for a regional meetings where experts discussed impact of the federal healthcare bills. About 130 people from as far away as Saratoga and Cooperstown attended the forum for this region at Hudson Hall in the Hudson Opera House. The meeting was chaired by Jason Helgerson, the state Medicaid director.

Monday night it still seemed likely Congress would quickly agree on a bill that would undo Obamacare and replace it with a law the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts will cause over 20 million Americans to lose healthcare insurance. Now it looks like agreement will take a little longer.

The choice of Hudson as the site for this meeting was no accident. Mr. Helgerson urged attendees to sign the governor’s online petition opposing the pending bill and to press Representative John Faso (R-19th), a Kinderhook resident, to drop his support for the current healthcare proposals. No one at the session defended the GOP bills and the collective groans at the mention of Mr. Faso’s name indicated the audience remained skeptical their congressman would alter his position.

On the contrary, Mr. Faso has been quick to respond, issuing an email memo disputing the governor’s statements. And there is room for reasonable people to disagree over exactly how many people will suffer from the laws. But the bills would reduce the rate of spending for Medicaid while doing nothing to cap the rate of increase in healthcare costs. In effect the public will pay more for less coverage.

Mr. Faso’s email defends his contribution to the GOP healthcare bills that he says would reduce taxes for upstate New York by shifting county Medicaid costs to the state. That’s an illusion. State government in New York has deep but Medicaid costs won’t go away, they will just be redistributed. Meanwhile the cuts in Medicaid and the diminished subsidies for health insurance provide a huge tax break for the wealthiest Americans.

In his email memo Mr. Faso says New York’s spends more on Medicaid than “Texas and Florida combined.” There’s a reason for that. The Associated Press this week described Florida’s as among “the nation’s stingiest Medicaid programs, offering relatively low reimbursements to providers and limiting eligibility based on income to poorer children and their parents, pregnant women, people with disabilities and seniors in nursing homes.” Is that how he’d like to see senior citizens, people with long-term disabilities, low-income kids and women treated in this state?

And perhaps the congressman wasn’t aware of this, but Florida and Texas have recently requested hundreds of millions of dollars more for their Medicaid programs, according to US News.

These so-called healthcare bills should never pass. Forget liberal or conservative, this is a matter of self interest: we need to act now to preserve the limited help we get to meet our healthcare needs.

It would take remarkable political courage for Mr. Faso to oppose these bills, but it’s not inconsistent. All he has to do is embrace the approach he took at the beginning of his term, when he said he wanted to fix what’s wrong with Obamacare and improve access to healthcare.

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