Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Obamacare: What is it good for?; Stelly casts a long shadow; Food stamp cuts on the horizon in 2016; and Call for special session unlikely to succeed

 

Obamacare: What is it good for?

Even as the law enters its second year of being in full effect and millions more Americans continue to buy health plans with the help of new tax credits, the political firestorm around the Affordable Care Act continues. But the Los Angeles Times reports one woman’s story that breaks through the political rhetoric and gets to what the heart of the law, flaws and all, is really about.

 

Like many working Americans, Lisa Gray thought she had good health insurance. That was until she was diagnosed with leukemia in mid-2013, and the self-employed businesswoman made a startling discovery: Her health plan didn’t cover the chemotherapy she needed. “I thought I was going to die,” Gray, 62, said recently, recalling her desperate scramble to get lifesaving drugs…But it was a new health plan through the Affordable Care Act that Gray credits with saving her life. The plan, which started Jan. 1, 2014, gave her access to the recommended chemotherapy. Her cancer went into remission in the fall.

 

The law’s guarantee that no one be denied insurance due to a pre-existing condition and new rules that ensure health plans cover essential treatments and don’t put a cap on coverage–preventing situations where folks “run out” of coverage right when they need it the most, like in the middle of chemotherapy–has been a literal lifesaver for many Americans and kept others from financial ruin.

 

Sitting on her living room couch with her dog, Gray says she is somewhat bewildered by the controversy that continues to shadow the health law.”I don’t understand why people get so mad…. It’s just health insurance,” she said, describing conversations with friends and neighbors who say the law should be repealed. “I tell them, ‘You have to understand, there are people who need this. I mean really, really need this.'”

 

Stelly casts a long shadow
It has been six years since a freshmen Governor Bobby Jindal and a shortsighted legislature repealed the 2002 voter-approved “Stelly Plan,” which swapped sales taxes on groceries, utilities and prescription drugs for higher income taxes on the wealthy. The ill-advised move-taken on the tail end of an overheated post-Katrina economic boom, but on the eve of the Great Recession-has cast a long shadow over the state budget ever since, notes the Advocate’s editorial board:

 

Since then, the state budget has been a mess, even as the state’s economy has improved: The Original Sin took away huge portions of the state’s income tax base, and revenues have never really recovered. Tragic cuts to higher education, vital to the state’s future growth, have followed from the Original Sin…Lawmakers ask where the money is, as Jindal goes around the state cutting ribbons on new businesses. The answer is that the state’s tax structure was cut at its base, basically a billion dollars every year from general fund revenues.

 

While the recent nosedive in oil prices has contributed to a mid-year budget shortfall, it is hardly the whole story of Louisiana’s fiscal problems. Growth in sales and income tax revenue–the two most important sources–has been basically flat for years.

 

Food stamp cuts on the horizon in 2016
The Huffington Post reports that enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–SNAP, commonly known as food stamps–could drop by 1 million in 2016. As the economy continues to slowly improve and unemployment rates come down, states will lose the ability to get SNAP “waivers” for adults who can’t find work, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This could leave some workers out in the cold, unable to find a job and ineligible for basic food assistance.

 

Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the formal name for food stamps) has been dropping since late 2013 mainly because the economy has been getting better. After this year, states will have to reimpose requirements that able-bodied childless adults enroll in job training or work 20 hours per week if they want more than three months of food stamps.

 

The CBPP’s Ed Bolen said he expects the requirement to accelerate a decline in enrollment that has been driven so far by people getting jobs and earning too much money to qualify for assistance. People who are unable to find jobs will be out of luck, since few states offer training or workfare programs that meet the requirements.

 

Call for special session unlikely to succeed

With Louisiana facing a $1.4 billion budget shortfall next year – a number that is likely to grow – state Rep. Joe Harrison is asking his colleagues to meet for a special session on the budget, reports the Associated Press.

 

Harrison wants lawmakers to consider removing special budget protections that leave public colleges and health services more vulnerable to cuts than other agencies. He also wants lawmakers to consider scaling back some of the state’s tax breaks for businesses, after a review to determine if they are job creators or just giveaways.

 

Given opposition from Gov. Bobby Jindal and his legislative leadership team, the chances of a special session actually happening this spring are slim to none.

 

NUMBER OF THE DAY:

$1 billion – Cut to Louisiana’s revenue base because of the repeal of the Stelly Plan, which has lead to drastic cuts to higher education and other services (Source: The Advocate)