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Wed Dec 7, 2011, 03:53 PM

Van Hollen: In budget balancing, we must preserve Medicaid

Congress is engaged in an ongoing debate on proposals to reduce the deficit. There is no question we need get our fiscal house in order and put our nation on the path to long-term fiscal stability — the question is how.

First, we must ensure that we do no harm to our still fragile economy — anything that would put American jobs at risk is unacceptable. Second, we must find a balanced approach that does not put undue burdens on our seniors and most vulnerable or slash critical investments in education, infrastructure and innovation. Unfortunately, many of the deficit reduction proposals being debated would do just the opposite —battering our economy, killing jobs and essential investments and, at the same time, shredding the social safety net.

One area where that is starkly clear is with the Medicaid program, the state and federally funded health care plan for people struggling near the poverty line. The Republican budget that passed the House of Representatives would impose steadily larger cuts in federal funding to state Medicaid programs — a 5 percent cut in 2013 and a cut approaching 33 percent by the 10th year. Maryland's Medicaid program would lose billions of federal dollars if those cuts were enacted. This plan would not just cut Medicaid but would fundamentally alter its very structure, turning it into a no-strings-attached "block grant" program. This approach would give governors a blank check for pet initiatives and a license to cut support for seniors and low-income kids.

Walking away from the federal commitment to Medicaid doesn't solve the problem; it just passes health care costs down to states. Because almost every state, including Maryland, is required by law to balance its budget every year, it means cuts in services and more financial strains for already suffering families, cuts in provider payments, lost jobs in the health care sector, and dampened business activity as the consequences of lost jobs and unmet health care needs ripple through the economy.

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-medicaid-20110725,0,1063569.story

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