'Opinion' By TOM LOEWY | The Register-Mail
When a state senator walks into a room filled with senior citizens, opens a discussion on the issue of the precarious state of Medicaid funding in Illinois and decries an “entitlement mentality” that “has permeated through many parts of our urban cities” one might be left wondering what, exactly, that representative is talking about.
That’s what State Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, told a group at a local retirement living center Monday.
Here’s the entire quote:
“I’ll tell you many (Senate) members that you meet in Chicago, they come from an entitlement mentality, that you are entitled to things,” LaHood said that day. “That’s not what made our country great. You can work hard, get an education, and the sky is the limit in this country. Many of you have done that ... but it’s not about being entitled to things. That has permeated through many parts of our urban cities and that, in turn, affects many of the legislators. That entitlement mentality, I don’t think has served us very well in certain aspects of our society.”For many years, “urban” often served as a code word for “black.” Or, among the more generous separatists who sought to avoid being labeled as racists, the term “urban” was used as a nice way of saying “ghetto dwellers.”
We’ll give LaHood the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, in our enlightened age, he couldn’t have intended those inferences.
But what is clear from LaHood’s words is he sought to pander to an audience from a largely rural county. In an arena where, presumably, most of the spectators draw Medicare, LaHood sought to reassure recipients of that “entitlement” that a portion of the “others” receiving Medicaid have a “mentality” that runs contrary to the things that “made our great country.”
I think that’s a fair interpretation of what LaHood said. Now let’s see if it stands up.
There are, as of the start of this year, roughly 2.8 million Illinoisans enrolled in the Medicaid program. That’s one out of every five people in the state.
Who are the people on Medicaid?
Well, for starters, kids. All kinds of kids. The children of single mothers and parents who work low-wage jobs. The kids being raised by grandparents or in foster homes. Kids from families where a parent or both parents have lost their jobs or work for small businesses that could never hope to afford employee-sponsored health benefits.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 71 percent of the children living in poverty in Illinois get their healthcare through Medicaid. Another 65 percent of children living in low-income homes in the state get their healthcare through Medicaid.
That’s just for starters. There are plenty of disabled adults who receive Medicaid. People saddled with mental or physical disabilities. People who were injured and cannot work.
To call Medicaid a vital safety net for state residents is an understatement.
Now let’s consider rural Knox County, where there are roughly 10,500 residents enrolled in the Medicaid program. Interestingly enough, that’s one fifth of the population of the county.
Here are some more quick facts about Knox County:
Roughly 36 percent of the county’s population is poor or near-poor, which means they manage to survive at 185 percent of the federal poverty level of roughly $24,000 a year for a family of four.Just over half the children in the county are eligible to receive free and reduced lunches because they live in homes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level.Obviously, people in our county enroll their children in the Medicaid program because kids need medical care — and, increasingly, their parents can’t afford to get it any other way. Perhaps the parents in “urban” areas face the same pressures.
We in our rural setting are, in fact, no different than those in the “urban” environs.
Medicaid funding is a problem — a problem that, in fact, started when federal taxes were slashed for the expressed purpose of strangling programs like Medicaid. Politicians of every stripe can spend from now until end times arguing over philosophy, but that is a fact. We collect fewer tax dollars today than at any time in recent memory. Our need for austerity — and our lack of Medicaid funding — is born of the decision to stop collecting what is due from our citizens, millionaires and middle-class alike.
Striving to eliminate Medicaid fraud is a worthy goal. People shouldn’t cheat the system. Containing costs is another goal states should pursue with great vigor. Having a reasonable discussion of taxation also might be a good idea.
But residents of Knox County shouldn’t tolerate a politician who walks into our midst and spouts off about an “entitlement mentality” when our friends and neighbors are struggling to find affordable medical care for their children.
We should never tolerate a politician who tries to pit “us” against “them” when we are all citizens of the same state, faced with the same crushing economic uncertainties as those who live in other ZIP codes.
Sorry, but that kind of attitude never made our country great.
Tom Loewy is a reporter/columnist with The Register-Mail. Contact him at email@example.com or 343-7181, ext 256.
For Illinois State Senator Darin LaHood, (R)| 37th District :