With PeachCare dominating much of the legislative conversation of late, Jim Wooten took a stab at what he perceives to be a problem with runaway entitlement programs in his column Monday. Wooten is concerned that both PeachCare and the Public Defender Standards Council will “spin out of control” if they are not properly dealt with during this legislative session.
Almost seven years later, the warning issued by state Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) when the 2000 General Assembly expanded eligibility for PeachCare is seen as prophetic:
“The money from Congress [for PeachCare] is sun-setted,” Johnson warned as the state Senate considered expanding the household income eligibility. “So once we have everyone addicted to free health care, we may have to take it away from them.”
Not to worry, said then-Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, an Augusta Democrat now serving more than 10 years in prison on a variety of charges, including evading the federal income taxes he was confident would forever flow. “We’re confident President Al Gore will continue it,” said Walker. On such assurances, the bill passed 51-0 to expand eligiblity from about $34,000 for a family of four to about $40,000, or 235 percent of the federal poverty level at the time.
Similar assurances were given in 2003 when the state passed the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council indigent defense system — one of which was that the cost would be $60 million to $80 million per year when it was up and running in 2005. The costs to counties and the state for indigent defense have topped $100 million, notes state Sen. Preston Smith (R-Rome), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Tom Barton at the Savannah Morning News wrote a similar editorial Sunday, calling the PeachCare crisis a “symptom of many deeper ills.” But Barton took a slightly different approach.
At the bottom of what’s ailing PeachCare, and America’s health-care headache as a whole, isn’t money. Otherwise, we’re all going to be PeachCare-eligible at some point. Instead, it’s where the money is going.
THE UNITED STATES spent a whopping 16 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on health care in 2004, according to the Washington-based National Coalition on Health Care. That’s more than four times what we spend on defense. Worse, the coalition predicts health care’s share of the GDP to rise to 20 percent in 2015.
As someone who spent sleepless nights with babies with ear infections, I’m willing to spend more money on amoxicillin than mortar rounds. I also understand that the aging of the Baby Boomer population (more hip and knee replacements, cancer treatments and other needed care) will hit the bottom line like a ton of AARP membership cards.
Still, what we have with health-care spending – at least from one consumer’s viewpoint – is capitalism and an entitlement system gone wild.