Win-win situation for all

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 23, 2007

While the Medicaid relief news is welcomed by Roanoke-Chowan area county government officials, we will not pop the cork on the champaign bottle just yet.

North Carolina remains the only state in the Union that requires its counties to pay a share of the ever-growing Medicaid bill. It’s projected that share will total over one-half billion dollars next year. We’ll raise our glasses and make a celebratory toast when the state finally decides to accept full financial responsibility.

To expect poor, rural counties to commit in excess of $2.5 million each of their paltry budgets to pay for Medicaid is not and never will be a fair way of conducting government business. With our aging school buildings in need of replacement, our law enforcement officers facing new a challenge with the growing threat of gangs and the fact that we’re losing our young people because there’s nothing here to grab their attention professionally, we sure are in need of money that could begin to address these problems.

But a one-year band aid will not suffice. We need long-term relief. We need the state to absorb all its share of the costs attributed to this federally mandated program. And we do not a swap of funds so don’t attempt to find a solution that takes away a half-penny of local sales tax here or a penny of local tax there in lieu of picking-up the entire Medicaid tab.

And while we’re addressing the Medicaid issue, the system itself needs a good overhaul.

It’s no wonder the Medicaid costs of our local counties are so extreme when considering that over 30 percent of the citizens residing in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties are eligible for assistance. That’s not to say we need to totally stop lending a helping hand, but rather that federal and state officials need to take a long, hard look at how this huge pot of money is being spent.

For starters, we need to look at Medicaid as a hand-up rather than a hand-out. For those down on their luck, it’s a great program to fill in a rough spot. It should be used to subsidize medical and nutritional needs while a struggling individual or family attempts to regain their footing.

With Medicaid reducing the burden of everyday needs, it’s a great time for a person to enroll or return to college where they can gain the skills needed to land a good-paying, self-supporting job and use that to remove themselves from the Medicaid system.

Don’t give me the excuse there are no good-paying jobs to be found. This newspaper, on a regular basis, publishes job openings offered through the Employment Security Commission offices in Ahoskie and Roanoke Rapids. I see what they have to offer and know, at least in a ballpark sense, of what those jobs pay. If you have the knowledge gained through a college education, even a two-year degree from a community college, you can land a good job.

If you choose to continue to milk the system…or are not caught by Medicaid fraud investigators….at least have the courtesy of making it look like you are struggling financially. When you hit the potholes along the route of life, you have to learn to make sacrifices. You can’t drive around in a late model vehicle, complete with all the fancy bells and whistles, and go to have your nails done every week.

And while we’re at this, let’s initiate a drug-testing program for Medicaid recipients. We, the taxpayers who work to fund the system, are subject to drug tests here at our jobs. What’s wrong with making sure those who are on the receiving end are void of illegal drugs?

And don’t even get me started on those riding the Medicaid coattails. Someone please tell me how many home health agencies and medical transport businesses do we need? Sure, this is America, the home of free enterprise, but enough is enough.

Adding to the mix is the state’s decision to open up mental health assistance to private providers. Those businesses, like their home health counterparts, are now seemingly popping up on every street corner. How many are needed? Is there enough Medicaid money to afford those services?

Here’s a suggestion. Those able-bodied Medicaid recipients, while in-between or after scheduled college classes, can perform volunteer work for home health, mental health or medical transport businesses. Think of it as helping the system that helped you.

In return for those free services, owners of those businesses can multiply those free hours by the minimum wage and return the total to Medicaid in order to give something back to the federal funds they use to make a living. It’s a win-win situation for all!