FROM PANDEMIC TO SOLIDARITY By Jason Sibert

The Covid-19 epidemic gives our country a reason to work for a more solidarity-related economy.

States across the country are cutting back on Medicaid as our country still fights the pandemic and a lack of healthcare threatens the economic security of Americans. Reports said state officials will have to cut back on the program unless they receive more support from the federal government. The program insures more than 70 million low-income Americans. The social distancing required to fight Covid-19 puts a strain on state budgets who collect some of their tax money from sales taxes consumers pay.

Congress already gave states a six-percent increase in federal funding for Medicaid in an earlier Covid-19 stimulus package, said reports. In Georgia, where the need for Medicaid is expected to rise to 567,000 people, Republican Governor Brian Kemp and state legislators have instructed the state to brace for a 14 percent across-the-board cut in Medicaid. Some Republicans have questioned the need for more funding.

Naturally, the fight against Covid-19 has brought about an increase in the number of people who are applying for Medicaid. In New Mexico, where 42 percent of the population is already enrolled in Medicaid, sign-ups have surged by over 10,000 people more than were expected from before the pandemic. The state’s top Medicaid official is worried about this item. New Mexico is heavily reliant on revenues from oil and natural gas, reports indicate.

Our issues surrounding Medicaid are about money and power. The program, unfortunately, is funded by both the federal and state governments. The mixed funding formula allows low-wage, poverty-stricken states to game the system. Low-wage states – often right-to-work states – can attract employers, sometimes foreign auto companies, with the promise that they will be able to attract employees more cheaply than in higher-wage, non-right-to-work states through lower benefit packages. People who work for a discount retailer and like their jobs and can receive Medicaid might stick with their jobs if they keep their health package (Medicaid). If they do not receive Medicaid in a low-wage, right-to-work state, then they might take jobs (perhaps in an auto plant owned by a foreign company) just to have better or just some benefits.

Politicians are rightly worried about funding. There is an area where we can cut to fund Medicaid – nuclear weapons. In the war against Covid-19, public health means everything and nuclear weapons mean nothing. President Barack Obama signed off on a $1 trillion-dollar nuclear modernization plan and President Donald Trump increased the amount allocated to modernization and has pushed ahead on developing new nuclear weapons.  With a transfer of funds from nuclear modernization to Medicaid, there can be a renewed emphasis on arms control by extending the New Start Treaty in 2021. This is part of the war against Covid-19.

However, there seems to be a lack of understanding when it comes to linking arms control and Medicaid expansion.  An obstacle to this understanding is the sheer power of the military-industrial complex. Nuclear weapons, and the other items produced by the military-industrial complex, mean profits for the companies that make them. In a money-drenched political system, these companies have a voice. However, the people who qualify for Medicaid don’t have the money to buy a voice, even though public health and security are joined at the hip in the pandemic. What is needed to draw the connection between public health, Medicaid and the power of the military-industrial complex is a new social democratic movement that would work to give a voice to low-income and middle-class people in our system. Otherwise, the power of money will continue to rule.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

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