If attempts to take health care away from millions of Americans last year weren’t enough to mobilize voters this fall, President Trump is doing his part to remind all of us that politicians won’t cease their attacks on our health care any time soon. (See Andy Slavitt’s “The Republican cold war on the Affordable Care Act” for more on that.)
Earlier this month, just in time for Mothers’ Day, the Trump Administration proposed a $7 billion cut to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Of all the places the Administration could look for budget cuts, they’ve decided to target a program that provides health care to 9 million children, which speaks volumes about the priorities of current political leadership in Washington, D.C.
The cuts include reducing CHIP reserves to $500 million — down from $4.3 billion just two months ago. This emergency fund is intended to ensure that children can get the health care they need during future economic downturns. Not surprisingly, raiding the fund is raising real concerns from experts who believe it could put future health care funding in peril.
“This really could be a problem for CHIP,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. “It sets a very dangerous precedent for the program.”
The current attack on health care funding follows intensified attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act since Donald Trump became president — a move that would have taken health care away from 32 million Americans.
The good news is voters aren’t asleep at the wheel. Far from it, Americans are more inspired than ever and taking action. Voters have been going door-to-door for months, working to place initiatives on the ballot that could expand and protect health care for more than 400,000 of their friends, neighbors and family members, with voters in some of the country’s reddest states leading the way.
Last month, voters in Utah crossed the signature threshold needed to place a Medicaid expansion initiative on the ballot in that state. The measure would provide health care to more than 150,000 Utahns while bringing home nearly $800 million in federal money to boost the state’s economy.
In Idaho voters submitted signatures May 1st to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot in that state too — a move that could deliver health care to 62,000 people. The signature collection effort relied heavily on a volunteer operation that began with a small band of Idahoans traveling around the state in a green van, driven only by their passion to help hard-working Americans who are slipping through the cracks in our health care system.
Signature collection efforts to expand Medicaid are also on track in Nebraska, as well as in Montana, where voters are seeking to continue its successful program, which will sunset next year without voter intervention. Medicaid expansion in Montana has already increased health care for nearly 100,000 Montanans and boosted the state’s economy by $400 million.
All of these efforts are bipartisan, and all of them represent the growing distance between politicians and voters, who want solutions, not more partisan maneuvering. The four campaigns follow a successful ballot initiative to expand Medicaid in Maine last year and are supported by The Fairness Project, which was created to help voters work around failed political leadership in moments just like this.
When you think back about recent fights to protect health care for millions of Americans, these ballot initiative campaigns take on additional importance. Senators from states that had expanded Medicaid were far more likely to vote against efforts to take health care away from their constituents than politicians from states that had not expanded coverage.
As this week’s news underscores, the attacks on health care won’t stop anytime soon, and “we the people” are having none of it. What is becoming abundantly clear is that the best path to protecting our health care is to aggressively expand coverage for the millions of Americans who are still forced to choose between seeing a doctor and putting food on the table. We do better when we’re all in this together.
This fall, voters will get plenty of chances to vote on health care in candidate races across the country. But if you’re looking for evidence on how much the attacks on health care already are backfiring, look to Utah, Idaho, Nebraska and Montana, where voters from both political parties are making it clear that they want more health care — not less.