August 31, 2014 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Obama bashing isn’t cheap

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has on his desk – or, perhaps, a dusty shelf – a couple of reports that scream “take the Medicaid expansion!”

Other Republican governors do, too, and they’re starting to cave to the reality that it’s not worth punishing uninsured citizens, hospitals and taxpayers to aid and abet Obama Derangement Syndrome. This is the malady that causes them to scurry to the opposite side of whatever position the president has taken.

Last Thursday, federal regulators approved a proposal from Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to accept the expanded Medicaid dollars under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, an estimated 500,000 Pennsylvanians will gain health coverage, and the state will save $125 million in its current budget on indigent-care programs.

Wyoming could be the next GOP-controlled state to take the leap, with the Los Angeles Times reporting that the governor is in talks with the federal government. Money is the catalyst. The state stands to save $50 million, and Wyoming hospitals say they’re losing $200 million annually because of care for the uninsured.

In a report that predated the Pennsylvania conversion, the Robert Wood Foundation estimated that the 24 holdout states would lose $600 billion in lost federal funding and uncompensated care through 2020. Meanwhile, complying states are receiving $13.41 for every dollar they spend.

Similar numbers are highlighted in those reports to Otter. Two consultants have shown that Idaho could stanch the budgetary bleeding in its county-financed medical indigency program and the state catastrophic health care program. One report says these plans need an extra $284 million over the next 10 years. But if the state expanded Medicaid, it could save $6.5 million instead. The Idaho Hospital Association projected $407.4 million in savings.

However, lawmakers, many of whom are currently running for re-election, would have to surrender something they obviously prize more: an opportunity to bash the president.

ON the ropes. One way to measure how difficult it is to pay for college these days is to highlight how easy it used to be. A recent post on Facebook and Twitter by Ourtime.org., an advocacy group for young Americans, made this point:

“In 1978, a student who worked a minimum-wage summer job could afford to pay a year’s full tuition at the four-year public university of their choice.”

Along with a federal grant, this is essentially how I paid for college, so it rings true. Still, it’s important to check out social media claims, and Politifact did.

While the “of their choice” phrasing goes too far, the rest of the statement is supported by the facts. Bear in mind that tuition does not include room and board, and the price tag is a national average for in-state tuition at public universities for that year. With those caveats in mind, here are the numbers: In 1978, the minimum wage was $2.65 an hour. Forty hours a week for 13 weeks adds up to $1,378. Average in-state tuition was $688.

Students today face a knee-buckling one-two combination. Tuition has outpaced inflation, and inflation has outpaced the minimum wage. A wage of $2.65 an hour would translate to $9.68 today if it were adjusted for inflation. The federal minimum wage is $7.25. Washington state’s minimum is $9.32, which is highest in the nation.

So at a time when a college education has never been more important, it’s much tougher for students to work their way to a diploma. Plus, on the horizon is a possible crackdown on students when degree attainment takes too long.

If implemented without regard for exorbitant college costs, that could be the knockout punch.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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