Medicaid expansion is not free to Missouri taxpayers

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Under the law known as Obamacare, states are being asked to expand Medicaid by a massive amount in exchange for temporary federal funding. Once again, the federal government is essentially bribing the states to force Americans to go even deeper into unsustainable debt by expanding our welfare system, and I do not think this is right.

I believe that the people of Southeast Missouri will agree, as we have spoken out twice against Obamacare at the ballot box in August 2010 and October 2012. By rejecting this expansion along with the rest of Obamacare, Missouri can send a message to our federal government that it must begin to put its fiscal house in order and must not try to get our state to follow down the path to intractable debt.

Proponents of the expansion argue that by not adopting this part of Obamacare, Missouri would be turning down "free money." I think that these people have it wrong.

The federal money that would temporarily fund the expansion is not free; it has to be paid for out of the pockets of taxpayers across the United States. With our national debt climbing over $16.4 trillion and continuous budget deficits, our federal government continues to borrow billions from China to allow for spending increases like this needless welfare expansion. This money will have to be paid back somehow, and the recent "fiscal cliff" showdown shows how the Obama administration wants to do so -- tax increases instead of fiscal responsibility.

Of course, the burden of expansion will not be solely a federal issue. Over time, the funding responsibility will shift more and more to the state, requiring millions of dollars directly from Missouri taxpayers.

As a state, we cannot afford to act like the federal government and spend more money than we have. Missouri has a balanced-budget amendment that requires us to live within our means. Expansion of Medicaid today would mean that in the future, once federal funding starts to trickle away, Missouri would have to devote millions of dollars to a bloated social-welfare bureaucracy, money that otherwise could be used for education, improving our roads, funding public safety projects or many other necessary government programs.

Our Medicaid program, Missouri HealthNet, is very generous. According to information from the Missouri Foundation for Health, one in seven Missourians [more than 900,000 residents] were covered by the program in 2011, including 37 percent of our state's children. An expansion would take what is already a massive program and turn it into an unwieldy, European-style entitlement program.

Instead of expanding welfare and keeping struggling families locked in a cycle of poverty, we need to focus on ways we can help people succeed. We cannot continue to place so much emphasis on programs that encourage participants to accept poverty as the new normal.

I will oppose Medicaid expansion and instead focus on policies that will help encourage the creation of new jobs that our state needs. Through job training and educational programs, we can prepare more Missourians to compete for new jobs. By adopting market-based policies to make our state more competitive, we can attract new family-supporting jobs that will help all Missourians prosper. Job creation and business expansion will be better for our state in the long run than throwing millions of dollars into our welfare system.

Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, is the state senator for Missouri's 27th District.

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