The Commonwealth of Kentucky, best known for its weirdly colored grass, fine bourbon and equestrian pageantry, is about to be destroyed by the Trump administration. Many will suffer and perhaps die because Kentucky obtained a Medicaid waiver to impose additional and often insurmountable hardships on poor people receiving their free health care from the State. Since all I need to know, I learned on Twitter, allow me to share with you some illuminating insights from the Twitterati.
The evil Republican Governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, is salivating at the prospect off changing Medicaid as we know it, which obviously means that poor people and especially people of color will be suffering greatly under this plan. You really don’t need to know more, since this should be reason enough to mobilize the worried wealthy, who are tossing and turning in their featherbeds night after night, searching for ways to save the poor. For those who are neither worried nor wealthy enough to really care, here are the ominous provisions of the Kentucky racist, homophobic and xenophobic plan to change Medicaid (it is all these things because it was not only approved, but encouraged by the Trump administration, and we all know what that means).
The most egregious transgression in the Kentucky HEALTH plan is the imposition of work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries. The first thing that comes to my mind when they say “work requirements” is that sign at the entrance to Auschwitz saying that work makes you free. In Kentucky, the Republicans argue that work makes you healthy. Same thing. So, what are those monstrous work requirements? Medicaid recipients who are not children, who are not below the poverty line, who are not elderly, who are not pregnant, who are not disabled, who are not medically or mentally frail, who are not providing care to children or other disabled individuals, who are not experiencing hardships such as domestic abuse or homelessness or other disruptions in their lives, must spend approximately 4 hours a day in school (any school), training (any training), apprenticing, acquiring useful skills, volunteering in the community, searching for a job or actually working somewhere.
Wait, wait…. Don’t raise your eyebrows and don’t think or say anything. If you are reading this, you are most likely rich, likely white, well-educated and perhaps even male. Medicaid beneficiaries are none of these things. We all know that any of those endeavors could be truly insurmountable hardships for people who are poor, black or Hispanic, uneducated and female. We know that because we are not racists, misogynists or just plain bigoted SOBs, like the Republicans running Kentucky and that insufferable man running the country (or so he thinks).
Besides, most Medicaid beneficiaries who don’t fall in the exempt categories are already working. The ones who don’t work, or study, or do anything beneficial for themselves or others, are experiencing circumstances beyond their control. Helping them gain control over their lives is not Medicaid’s job because health and wellbeing have nothing to do with socioeconomic circumstances. And even if Kentucky wanted to “nudge” people into, say, getting their GED by funding a special rewards account, the bureaucracy involved in tracking all sanctioned activities, all exemptions and special circumstances is just too daunting for “these people” to navigate. Trust me on this one, I read it straight from the keyboards of Hollywood celebrities and several current and former big health care executives.
The second affront to humanity in the Kentucky plan is to charge poor people premiums for health insurance. Not only that, but those who can’t pay the premiums may be kicked off Medicaid. Granted the premiums range from $1 to $15 (in lieu of regular copays), and all the exemptions for ill health, frailty and poverty do apply here as well, but that still leaves a sizeable number of poor people who could be denied medical care just because they forgot to pay the monthly dollar twice in a row, or couldn’t afford the higher premium. These highly discriminatory practices targeting the poor are unheard of in other industries or even in the commercial segment of health care itself, where insurance premiums are largely voluntary.
To be fair to Kentucky, there is a mechanism by which people who did not pay their premiums on time can regain their Medicaid coverage, which brings us to provisions reminiscent of the Jim Crow days in the South. The Kentucky plan, you see, has a literacy provision for regaining access to care. This is obviously targeted at people of color and immigrants from what the GOP Leader calls “shithole” countries, which as every wealthy person in Bel Air knows, cannot read or write, and as evidenced by the thumbprint (or large X, depending on the State) appearing on most Medicaid applications. I have zero doubt that the Attorney General of the State of California will be taking the depraved Governor of Kentucky, and the Trump administration that enabled him, to court, and I have no doubt that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will find in favor of justice and equality, as it always does.
Until then, it seems that some Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky may have to sit through torturous health literacy or financial literacy classes, where they teach boring stuff about how to deal with debt, how health insurance works and how one can navigate these treacherous waters. There is no mention of a test or anything at the end, but this still seems like an unwarranted and blatantly racist imposition on “these people”. Even more outrageous though is that Kentucky is providing incentives, which can be used to purchase gym memberships, for Medicaid beneficiaries to take other classes, such as chronic care management or nutrition or drug addiction coping skills. What do illiterate people, drug addicts and all “these people” need gym memberships for? It’s like telling them to “eat cake” ….
And on and on goes the Kentucky HEALTH plan, listing one offensive section after another. The problem with this plan, which will live in infamy until the Sun goes supernova, is the cold, heartless and blatantly racist assumption that people who need Medicaid are as capable of functioning in modern society as anybody else. It ignores decades of teachings. It ignores hundreds of years of slavery and Anglo Saxon colonialist supremacy. And it ignores basic Christian values, because Jesus didn’t just sit there giving classes on how to fish. He gave people fish, and it worked great for Him and for His followers, eventually. If you see yourself as the Lord and Savior of huddled masses, you will want to do what Jesus did. If you feel equal to people who need Medicaid, but perhaps a bit luckier at this moment, you will dismiss everything I wrote here as total bullshit.
Margalit Gur-Arie was COO at GenesysMD (Purkinje), an HIT company focusing on web based EHR/PMS and billing services for physicians. Prior to GenesysMD, Margalit was Director of Product Management at Essence/Purkinje and HIT Consultant for SSM Healthcare, a large non-profit hospital organization. She shares her thoughts about HIT topics and issues at her blog, On Healthcare Technology.