Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Congressional budget proposal bad news for states; Yes, Medicaid expansion saves states money; Keeping the public in the dark; and Shining a light on corporate welfare


Congressional budget proposal bad news for states

Republicans in Congress are set to unveil their proposed federal budget today, and the news is not good for states. According to the New York Times, the plan would deeply slash Medicaid funding –  eventually “block granting” the program, which would shift financial risk to the states and lead to cuts in coverage for children and people with disabilities – and repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cause at least 16.4 million Americans to lose health coverage. The budget proposal would also partially privatize Medicare and maintain limits on “non-defense discretionary spending,” jargon for most of what the federal government actually does, from food safety to environmental protection. Strict budget caps also means less in K-12 education aid for states.


Yes, Medicaid expansion saves states money

The experiences of two Southern states that have embraced expanding health coverage, Arkansas and Kentucky, shows that a coverage-based strategy not only reduces the number of uninsured people, but can save states tens of millions of dollars. Jesse Cross-Call with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the details:


Expanding Medicaid saved Arkansas and Kentucky nearly $31 million and $26 million, respectively, in just the first six months of 2014, according to a report prepared for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They expect to save $89 million and $84 million this fiscal year, which ends June 30. What’s more, the report found that these states will continue to accumulate savings that will cover all costs related to the expansion through the end of the decade, even as the federal share of those costs phases down from 100 percent to 90 percent by 2020.


Cross-Call notes that similar savings are achievable for all states, because as more people gain health insurance, there will be less demand for state-funded charity care and mental health services. The actual experiences of other states stands in stark contrast to the dire predictions of the Jindal administration, which continues to maintain that Medicaid expansion is unaffordable.


Keeping the public in the dark

Cabinet-level state agencies are claiming a broad exemption to hide their budget documents from the public and the media for six months, instead of making them available under Louisiana’s public records law. The secrecy comes as agencies are likely drawing up worst-scenario contingency plans for what services they would have to cut in light of Louisiana’s $1.6 billion deficit. As Melinda Deslatte with the Associated Press reports, the hide-and-seek is a result of changes to the records law pushed by the governor early in his first term:


Jindal backed legislation in 2009 that rewrote the public records exemption for the governor’s office. The changes opened the possibility of more access to certain records in the governor’s office, which for years had a near-blanket exemption. But the rewrite added a provision that shields for six months any budget documents that provide “pre-decisional advice and recommendations to the governor” for any department headed by a gubernatorial appointee.


The move extended a new exemption across most state agencies that hadn’t previously existed — keeping hidden the financial discussions that help build the governor’s budget recommendations right as lawmakers are deciding how to craft annual spending plans.When running for office in 2007, Jindal campaigned on the need for more transparency in a state with a reputation for political corruption. But under his watch, more state agencies have been claiming their records can be kept secret.


Shining a light on corporate welfare
Following the adage that sunshine is the best disinfectant, the good folks over at Good Jobs First have been working for years to document and publicize state and local corporate subsidy deals that often unfold out of public view, even though they cost taxpayers billions. The group’s Subsidy Tracker has long been a tool for citizens, journalists and policy analysts (including LBP) to get a handle on how their tax dollars are being used. Today, Good Jobs First unveiled a new report–Uncle Sam’s Favorite Corporations–and a Subsidy Tracker 3.0 that includes an accounting of federal subsidies, loans, tax credits and bailouts.


Number of the Day


$31 million – Amount Arkansas saved in just six months because the state expanded health coverage (Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)