Medicaid’s vicious cycle

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 16, 2004

It sounds like a broken record.

How can local public school systems improve upon their respective educational processes without the financial resources to accomplish their goals? It takes money, and we all know that’s something sorely lacking within local government.

But can we point the finger of blame at local government for not sending the needed bucks to the school systems? I’m pretty sure that if they had their choice, public education would be at the top of their list for funding.

It’s a no-brainer. Would you rather pay now to ensure that the future of the Roanoke-Chowan area is left in educated hands, or keep paying through the proverbial nose down the road for Medicaid, its percentage now standing in double figures of what it takes off the top of our local counties annual overall budget.

How does a lack of education affect future medical care? I’m glad you asked.

Doesn’t it make sense that if you are in a position to receive a solid, secondary education, you’ll be more than ready to tackle the rigors of college? There, armed with the knowledge gained in high school and the self-confidence to succeed, a young person can use that higher education as a springboard to a successful career in their field of choice.

In turn, these young men and women will find themselves in a position to earn a decent living, thus breaking the vicious cycle of living off the government. Additionally, those landing employment will become productive, tax-paying citizens – again a plus to local government. If their college education lands them a higher-paying job, then these young people have the means to invest in land, homes, vehicles and other big-ticket items – additional means of generating long-term tax revenue, which aids local government.

With a dwindling need for Medicaid and an increasing number of tax-paying citizens, local government can afford to designate additional funding for education, thus continuing the cycle for the next generation, and the next, and the next.

At the same time, we must explore effective measures to close the loopholes within the Medicaid system. One of the most effective means of abusing the system is to have the children of able-bodied individuals raised by poverty stricken family members, especially elderly grandparents. Meanwhile, the parents will leave the area for higher-paying jobs in other regions – letting the system take care of their children.

By the time the parents return home, their children are grown. Unfortunately, those children, without proper parental guidance, tend not to do well in school. The majority will not attend college. That will eventually lead them down the same old path – financially unable to take care of themselves later in life and thusly becoming eligible for Medicaid benefits.

But with local government currently having limited financial resources to sink into our education system, how are we to break free from this cycle? We can’t turn our backs on the elderly who are in dire need of medical care, but we seem to be sacrificing our future in order to meet those needs. Where is the neutral ground?

The only other source of revenue to turn to is raising taxes. No one likes tax hikes, but where else can we turn?

According to the latest figures, North Carolinians, on average, pay just over 30 percent of their incomes in taxes and other government fees. Nearly 19 percent of that money goes to the federal government with the remaining 11 percent to state and local government. Alarmingly, the taxes paid to local government have increased, on average, by 23 percent over the past 10 years.

To compound matters, the state’s budget crunch led to the withholding of several traditional sources of revenue for local government. That money was held in Raleigh to help fill an ever-increasing budget deficit. In return, local government was left with either raising taxes or reducing or eliminating services in order to account for that lost revenue.

The state did extend an olive branch to local government, allowing for a new sales tax that was to replace the lost revenues from Raleigh. But in small, rural areas such as ours, that extra tax has had little or no effect.

So, again, I’ll pose the question – where do we turn?

Is it possible to place a tax levy for education only? That money can be used to attract and retain quality teachers, improve courses of study and prepare our children to become productive, tax-paying citizens that can pay their own way later in life.

The only down side to this proposal is it will take generations to see it come full circle. That’s a lot of tax money heaped upon our already over-burdened citizens. But we can’t keep playing a waiting game or wishing for a genie to pop out of a bottle. If this is the correct road to take, then the time is now to begin our journey.