Progressives can get frustrated with Democrats in election years: The party sometimes runs away from signature accomplishments, such as the creation and expansion of the social safety net, in fear of being labeled tax-and-spend liberals.
But U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) bills the party’s association with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as “political winners” this election season.
Schakowsky voiced her views during a teleconference call unveiling a new report, “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Work for America” by the Strengthen Social Security coalition. The report is partly the work of the Alliance for Retired Americans, an AFL-CIO affiliated group that successfully advocated for the start of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965.
Schakowsky said the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Care Act is “a golden moment for people to take another look” at legislation largely viewed as a political loser for Democrats during the 2010 election cycle.
The lawmaker called on Democrats to contrast ACA with the budget written by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, which passed the GOP-lead House in March.
Unlike the Ryan budget, ACA fully continues Medicare, a program in which the government provides full health care coverage to anyone 65 and over, while also saving money. A Congressional Budget office estimate released after the high court ruling found that repeal of ACA would actually raise the deficit $109 billion.
The health care reform law could be a talking point in Illinois this election year.
ACA will bolster the state’s Medicaid program for poor, elderly, and disabled patients, with the federal government paying the full expansion cost until 2019. The Supreme Court decision gives states a chance to opt-out of the expansion. But Gov. Pat Quinn says Illinois will take part in the expansion, which will provide health care to anyone whose income is 133 percent below the federal poverty level.
Schakowsky noted that while recent Medicaid cuts Quinn signed into law hurt patients, ACA “will ameliorate some of the state budget cutting that is taking place.”
“It’s a great deal for the states,” she said, bristling at GOP governors, such as Rick Scott of Florida, who announced their state will opt of Medicaid expansion.
The report contains an array of numbers indicating the widespread use of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid among Illinois residents.
As of 2009, 1.8 million or 13.9 percent of Prairie State residents were enrolled in Medicare. In 2010, 2 million or 15.8 percent of Illinoisans received Social Security retirement benefits. The federal government pays for all costs associated with both programs.
However, the cost of Medicaid, as anyone following Illinois politics knows, is split roughly 50-50 between the federal and state governments. Twenty-one percent of all state residents, or 2.7 million individuals, receive some form of Medicaid, according to 2009 figures. Total 2009 federal and state Medicaid spending for Illinois patients amounted to $13.1 billion.
Quinn’s cuts take about $1.6 billion from the program.
The report notes that the costs of both Medicare and Medicaid are increasing at a slower rate than private health insurance. It counsels Washington to reduce the federal deficit not by trimming the social safety net, but by undoing recent policies that caused the debt. This includes the Bush Tax Cuts, which expire this December.