Stimulus Update: Deals Leave Uninsured Behind

By Christine Cupaiuolo — February 14, 2009

In a story scheduled to run in Sunday’s paper, the Chicago Tribune looks at how the stimulus bill Congress approved leaves out millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and are struggling to pay for health care.

Noam M. Levey writes that during the frenzied legislative process, “sometimes arbitrary decisions were made to speed agreements and satisfy an array of political interest groups working to influence the gargantuan bill.” He continues:

During last-minute negotiating, provisions were cut that would have opened the government-run Medicaid insurance program to the unemployed, a move opposed by conservative lawmakers.

Another provision to allow older jobless workers like McKowen to keep their employer-based coverage until they qualify for Medicare was eliminated amid opposition from business groups that said that would put new burdens on employers.

Even the rules governing which workers were eligible for aid were picked on the fly, officials acknowledged. Sensitive to businesses’ concerns, senior Democrats decided to give health insurance subsidies only to workers who lost their jobs after September, even though the recession began nearly a year earlier.

Here’s what it does include:

  • $87 billion to help states shore up their Medicaid programs, which cover more than 55 million poor children, families and disabled people nationwide.
  • $19 billion to increase the use of information technology in health care.
  • $10 billion to The National Institutes of Health for research into cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.
  • More than $1 billion to boost government efforts to study the comparative effectiveness of medical procedures, pharmaceuticals and devices.

Related: This Washington Post story, produced by Kaiser Health News, provides a close-up look at how nonprofits, community clinics and government agencies are trying to provide medical services to a growing number of people who until recently would have been described as solidly middle-class. But having lost their health insurance along with their jobs, they can no longer afford doctor visits and prescriptions.

At the Arlington (Va.) Free Clinic, which provides free medical care to uninsured adults with acute and chronic illnesses, 45 county residents recently competed in a lottery for 30 openings. This is how it went down:

Mary Gleason, a clinic volunteer, draws letters from a plastic box. Those holding matching letters will be ushered through the door for interviews. If they meet the clinic’s criteria, they’ll return in a couple of weeks to see doctors or other staff.

One by one, winners are separated from losers. Gleason plucks a Z, and a man holding a Z strides into the clinic. His broken arm had been set in a hospital emergency room, and he needs to see a specialist for follow-up care.

Another man, who has Parkinson’s disease and urgently needs drugs to treat it, leaves disheartened. He will have to return in two weeks and try again in the next lottery.

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