Today, during a press conference to announce his health care team, President-elect Barack Obama linked the health care crisis to the current economic downturn and suggested that any solution requires health care reform:
This has to be intimately woven into our overall economic recovery plan. It’s not something that can be put off because we are in an emergency. This is part of the emergency.
Obama’s health presser comes on the heals of a new Labor Department report which found that “new claims for unemployment benefits hit 573,000 last week, the highest level in 26 years.” Rising unemployment, of course, leads to “increases in the number of individuals who are eligible for Medicaid coverage, and in declining tax revenues,” forcing states to stretch their budgets (make drastic cuts or limit eligibility or benefits) to fund coverage of additional enrollees.
To help states fund their ever-expanding Medicaid programs and stimulate their economies, Democrats in Congress are finalizing “the details of a $500 billion economic stimulus package” which currently allocates $50 billion to increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).
As Angela Shubert of Stand Up For Health Care explains, “in addition to helping states pay for extra Medicaid costs, federal funding for Medicaid will also give state economies a jump start by generating new jobs, wages, and business activity” and “help state economies move out of recession and back into the black.”
Still, Obama and his health team seem to recognize that financial band-aids are not enough. “The time has come, this year, in this new administration to modernize our health care system for the 21st century,” Obama said at the press conference. “Some may ask how at this moment of economic challenge we can afford to invest in reforming our health care system. And I ask a different question. I ask, how can we afford not to?”