Illinois Puts Debt above Death
I’ve always felt lucky to live in a “blue” state. Considering what has happened to the people of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, and Maine after they stupidly elected fascist right-wing governors, I was grateful I had no “voters’ remorse.”
I also know some of my state legislators and the battles they’ve fought to keep the kind of destructive budget cutting that destroys lives from being imposed on Illinois’ most vulnerable people – the elderly, the sick, and the increasing number of those living in or near poverty.
And then Rahm Emanuel became Chicago’s mayor and began shutting down community mental health clinics – like there aren’t enough mentally disturbed people walking the streets already.
Now we hear about how Chicago’s taxpayers are going to be socked with a $50-million bill from the private company that controls the exorbitant parking meter racket in the city. I am once again thankful that I don’t own property I have to taxes on, but am pretty sure that a chunk of the usurious “entertainment fees” and sales tax I can’t avoid will go to pay that bill when $50 million might have helped to keep at least one of those clinics open.
And speaking of taxes, Sears followed up on the $150 million tax credit deal the governor cut with them in order to keep them in Illinois by firing 100 Illinois taxpayers while paying their CEO $9.9 million just in salary. Seriously???
But the news that has me doing the E-Trade baby’s shocked face is that a bill cutting $1.6 billion from the state’s Medicaid programs was passed by the general assembly on May 24. Hundreds of thousands of people will be kicked to the curb. The Illinois Rx Program, which helps seniors and others afford prescription drugs is in danger of no longer existing. Families with disabled children will no longer be able to care for them in their homes, but will have to institutionalize them. And the community in which I work, that of people living with HIV/AIDS, is looking at the very real possibility of their disease once again becoming a death sentence instead of the chronic manageable disease it is now. Because many of them will no longer be able to get the medical care and antiretroviral drugs they need to stay alive, they won’t be able to maintain undetectable levels of the virus, which also cuts down their risk of transmitting it to someone else. The average cost of the drugs that suppress HIV is close to $20,000 per year and that’s just the HIV drugs. Quarterly doctor visits, lab work, dealing with any opportunistic infections, co-morbidities (many of the HIV drugs cause diabetes, high cholesterol, digestive problems, liver and kidney disease and neurological problems), and lost work hours can increase it to twice that. For someone making $30,000 per year (too much to qualify for Medicaid), that’s impossible without some assistance on top of whatever insurance they may have. For someone making $11,170 (federal poverty level for an individual), Medicaid is their only hope.
As I asked my state legislators, how many additional uninsured emergency room visits are going to have to occur, how many more people becoming homeless, how many more elderly, disabled, and sick people will have to die before this policy is considered a failure? Have there even been such “triggers” discussed, let alone set? One of the many things that seems to be missing from our legislative process, both at the state and federal level, is foresight, or at least consideration of a shut-off point when the results of such measures are deemed a price too high to pay for the fleeting goal of debt and deficit reduction. We frequently hear about the “sustainability” of Social Security and Medicare – what about the sustainability of a healthy, productive society? It would seem to me that removing access to even minimal healthcare will make that close to impossible.
I suspect Illinois is not the only state that has or will impose such sanctions on its elderly, sick, and poor. There is, after all, a prevailing mentality among conservative lawmakers that they’re all living the high life on the dole, defrauding safety net programs, not working as hard as they could, buying luxury items like refrigerators and toasters with taxpayer dollars, sick because of their own behavioral choices, never paying a cent of taxes. Yeah, sure.
Legislators should try living with diabetes (that they inherited from their gene pool) on even $20,000 a year, two times the poverty level. Actually, they should try living on $20,000 a year with NO chronic medical conditions and see if they can do it without ending up with high blood pressure from the stress, weight gain from the crappy food they can afford, and frequent colds and other infections from lack of heat in the winter and no relief from it in the summer. Then throw in some cancer, diabetes, asthma, liver disease, and back problems from the two jobs they work and see how that goes.
Those of us advocating for single-payer need to keep track. We need to note when measures like this go into effect and how healthcare data reflects the results. We need to pay attention to what happens in our communities as more and more people are denied access to care and treatment. Write it down, report it to health departments and news sources. Blog about it. The only problem will be how long it takes to compile enough evidence to repeal it. That, I suppose, will depend on how long it takes for us to elect legislators in our states and in Congress who understand that lowering the deficit and paying off debt does not justify killing off a large part of the population.