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May 28, 2013 9:49 AM Between a Rock and a Stupid Place

By Ed Kilgore

As the reality of states refusing the insanely generous terms of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion (viz., the Texas legislature’s proactive legislation prohibiting the state from participating), begin to sink in, with it comes the realization that a completely perverse situation will now prevail in these states. The New York Times’ Robert Pear explains for anyone who hasn’t heard:

More than half of all people without health insurance live in states that are not planning to expand Medicaid.
People in those states who have incomes from the poverty level up to four times that amount ($11,490 to $45,960 a year for an individual) can get federal tax credits to subsidize the purchase of private health insurance. But many people below the poverty line will be unable to get tax credits, Medicaid or other help with health insurance.

You will occasionally hear that people left exposed by states refusing to expand Medicaid are “covered” by Obamacare health insurances exchanges, and that’s true for what little it’s worth. The subsidies designed to make coverage affordable for the working poor (and a big chunk of the middle class), however, don’t kick in until a beneficiary’s income is above the federal poverty line. That’s because it did not occur to the Affordable Care Act’s sponsors that the Medicaid expansion provisions covering all Americans up to the poverty line would become voluntary for the states. And you know what? Had they known the Supreme Court was going to so rule, they probably would have thought no state would hate its own poor people enough to turn down the fiscal deal represented by the expansion (that was certainly the assumption a lot of otherwise smart observers made when the Court’s decision came down). Turns out as many as 25 states may in fact go in that stupid and malevolent direction, leaving up to 5.7 million Americans at the very heart of Obamacare’s intended coverage population without meaningful access to health insurance.

Now normally you’d think a Court-created “hole” in a legislative plan of this size would lead to a legislative “fix,” wouldn’t you? But that is for sure not happening until such time as Democrats regain control of the House and of 60 Senate seats—the temporary majorities that made enactment of the Affordable Care Act over the united opposition of the GOP possible in the first place.

The scandal of state-level Republicans leaving so much federal money on the table and so many poor people in the lurch may well become a campaign issue in 2014. But while this treachery is very likely to become a long-term political issue for Republicans in the affected states—particularly in the South, where its racial dimensions are impossible to ignore—the overall landscape going into the 2014 midterm election is hardly promising for Democrats there or nationally.

So putting things right and holding the happy architects of this wildly unfair situation may take a good long while. But payback’s hell.


Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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