Not funding Medicaid to balance the budget is hard to chew

By By Anne Looser

By Anne Looser

The state Legislature has been shortchanging Medicaid recipients in the name of fiscal conservatism. It is time to restore the money in the name of ethics, moral responsibility and compassion. According to the Crossroads Urban Center, a local non-profit serving homeless and low-income families and individuals, 64,704 Utahns rely on Medicaid to obtain medical care.

At most, these people only receive $564 per month in government benefits. These people cannot work or in any way obtain more income than what they receive from the government or they risk losing these benefits.

For most, however, even if the programs allowed them to work, they couldn’t because of severe health conditions.

In June 2002, dental benefits for adults receiving Medicaid were cut. The Utah State Legislature justified these cuts by arguing fiscal conservation was needed to ensure the state’s budget was balanced. Unfortunately for these adults, the consequences of the cuts were devastating. Medicaid recipients have incomes of no more than $564 per month. This is not enough to pay fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake City, let alone pay for an expensive dental visit.

It is even more unfortunate that Gov. Walker failed to add the $3.8 million necessary to restore dental benefits into the budget. Relatively speaking, $3.8 million is not a lot of money considering the size of the Utah budget and how much is spent on other government services.

It is an especially doable sum, considering how great the need is for this money. The recipients belong to the segment of our population that we as a society have an obligation to support.

During his campaign, Gov. Huntsman said he did not support restoring these benefits. Rather, he advocated dentists donating their services as charity.

While I appreciate the governor’s idea, it is inadequate. Passing the buck is not an acceptable response to all of the people whose teeth are hurting them right now.

I will never forget a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is on Medicaid due to a severe disability. He explained to me how he takes apples home and puts them in the blender so he can eat them with his sore teeth.

In the 2005 Legislative Session, Representative Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan, is sponsoring HB 32, “Dental Services for Adults on Medicaid.” This bill would restore dental benefits to the Medicaid program. Gov. Huntsman and every other elected official should follow suit.

Allowing disadvantaged Utah residents to suffer so our politicians can feel good about supporting a “balanced budget” is completely unacceptable.

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