The tolls have not begun to be taken. But surely that will start soon.
And we can be pretty certain what those tolls will report.
It’s just a matter of time, that is, before we begin learning of deaths occurring on account of the sequester and the decision by several states to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid as a part of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.
(Sequester, as nearly everyone knows by now, is the policy of across-the-board spending cuts totaling $85 billion this year that result from the failure of the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress to reach agreement on a budget for the nation. Lesser known is a provision in the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ACA/Obamacare that allows states to elect not to participate in a provision of the legislation that uses the existing Medicaid program to expand health insurance coverage for the poor through increased federal subsidies to the states.)
Obviously, because the sequester spending cuts affect every government program (except those specifically mandated to be exempted by Congress, such as air-traffic control), spending on health care (direct care as well as research) is being reduced, and that can only mean that more people will not be treated for serious illnesses and injuries and that more people will die, now and in the future.
Just consider a few examples of what is projected: a reduction of 659,476 people being tested for HIV; a reduction of 48,845 women being screened for cancer; a reduction of 211,958 children being vaccinated; a reduction of 112,190 women having access to domestic violence shelters. Or how about reductions of over three and a half billion dollars in health-related research that would likely save thousands, maybe millions, of lives in the future? (Source: Coalition for Health Funding, “The Impact of Sequestration.”)
That’s at the national level—although there are equally severe consequences of the sequester for the health of children and adults across the globe.
But the attack on health and life is taking place at the state level too: fourteen governors have indicated that they will reject the federal funds available through the expanded Medicaid program explicitly designed to increase health care coverage for the poor.
If those fourteen governors stick to their vow to forego these funds, it would cost their states something in the range of eight billion dollars in new revenue and it would cost them an additional billion dollars that will have to be paid to hospitals for providing mandated care to the uninsured poor.
The cost, however, in diminished health and lost lives in those fourteen states is a whole other matter.
Nobel prize economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman summarizes a recent study by the RAND Corporation this way:
“…Medicaid rejectionism will deny health coverage to roughly 3.6 million Americans, with essentially all of the victims living near or below the poverty line. And since past experience shows that Medicaid expansion is associated with significant declines in mortality, this would mean a lot of avoidable deaths: about 19,000 a year, the study estimated.” (NYTimes, 6/7/13. The RAND Corporation report is published in the June 2013 edition of Health Affairs, vol. 32, no.6, pp. 1030 – 1036.)
If the Gospel of Luke is to be believed, those fourteen states and the country-as-a-whole will need a number of appearances by Jesus very soon.
The story in Luke reports that just as Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd of followers were entering a town called Nain (a village near Nazareth in Galilee), they came across a burial procession.
The deceased was the only son of a poor widow.
The death of the only son, we need to understand, meant that the widow would now be even more destitute, economically for sure, and probably socially as well.
The text tells us that Jesus had compassion on the weeping widow, that he touched the bier and made the pallbearers come to a stop, and that he then addressed the dead son, telling him to rise.
The dead man did as he was told: he sat up and began to speak.
Jesus, Luke reports, “gave the son back to his mother.”
But that’s not all. That is, the consequence of the resurrection of the only son and the restoration of the widow to financial and social viability caused the whole crowd, first, to be seized by fear, and then to a recognition that not only had “a great prophet” arisen among them but also that “God had looked favorably on God’s people.”
Will a great prophet again arise among us as the thousands of caskets of the dead are carried to graveyards?
Will the reversal of a death sentence to poor daughters and sons, to poor widow and widowers, to poor children and adults in this country and across the world make people realize that God looks favorably upon God’s people?
It may not require a reappearance of the great prophet to cause the dead to rise and the grieving parents to be restored to life and hope if something else were to occur.
What might need to occur is for the contemporary followers of that prophet to rise up and deny the dealers of illness, and injury, and death their cruel and deliberate actions against the poor and vulnerable.
That action by the current disciples of the prophet on behalf of the ill, the injured, the dying might even cause a recurrence of people entertaining the thought that “God has looked favorably on God’s people.”