March 27, 2011 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Health care retreat costly

By The Spokesman-Review
 

On the anniversary of the passage of federal health care reform, polls show that Americans are split in their opinion about the law. Some opponents have seized on this to suggest that virtually half the country is on their side and so the whole thing ought to be tossed out.

Hardly.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that 52 percent of respondents feel they don’t have enough information to understand how it will affect them. This is only slightly lower than the 56 percent of Americans who were confused a year ago. The information is readily available. Various aspects of the plan have been the subject of media reports for a year. If general indifference held up laws, few would ever pass.

In the meantime, partisans love a knowledge vacuum, because they can fill it with their talking points. And sure enough, 82 percent of self-described Republicans take a dim view of the law and 71 percent of Democrats view it favorably. Republican feelings on this issue are more intense, the poll shows, however neither side has been able to move the public opinion needle much.

But wait, say conservative foes, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey shows that 59 percent of Americans oppose the law and only 37 percent support it. True, but CNN’s polling director noted that about 13 percent of those folks oppose the bill because it isn’t liberal enough. David Weigel of Slate lumps the supporters and these liberals together and comes up with this headline:

“Most favor health care law or wish it was more liberal.”

It’s also important to note that opposition doesn’t necessarily mean support for starting over. Fewer than 40 percent of Americans want the law repealed, according to the Kaiser poll.

Bridge to nowhere. A repeal of the federal health care law would presumably delay a solution, especially since congressional critics have yet to devise a replacement plan. That’s bad news for the people who have been or will be kicked off state plans aimed at the uninsured.

Washington state is hoping to maintain some sort of bridge between its Basic Health program and the implementation of the federal law in 2014, but that crossing is getting creakier all the time because of the budget crisis.

As of March 1, there were 34,200 people on Basic Health, after about 20,000 people were dropped due to recent budget cuts, according to the Vancouver Columbian. At one point, the program had more than 100,000 clients.

Repealing federal reform won’t return the nation to the coverage levels of 2009. It would take us to a new low.

SHUT OUT. As the Thursday deadline nears, Washingtonians are scurrying to sign up for the state’s prepaid college tuition program. The Guaranteed Education Tuition program could be headed for another record year, according to the Associated Press, thanks to the near-guarantee that tuition will skyrocket yet again.

Enrollees purchase tuition credits at today’s prices for later use. It’s a smart investment for families, but like a lot of government programs it provides an incentive to do something many people would’ve done anyway. Another example is the tax deductibility of mortgage interest. Most people would’ve bought a home regardless.

On the other hand, if you don’t have the spare cash to set aside, the rise in college tuition can be an insurmountable barrier. The State Need Grant was established to widen access to higher education for students from low-income households, and it has done just that. But the annual financial aid report, “Keeping College Affordable,” shows that a larger portion of that money is covering tuition increases.

The Legislature has increased spending on the grants by $122 million over the past 10 years, but only $36 million of that went toward serving more students. Tuition increases swallowed the rest.

As a result, an increasing number of students who qualify for the grant aren’t getting one.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page.


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