Wooten, Barton: Curb entitlement programs

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.

12 comments

  1. David says:

    It’s not just those programs that need cutting. It is insane that we provide the kind of pensions we do to state and federal workers. Most folks retire with 70%+ retirement pensions. Beginning now, no worker, federal or state, should be promised more than 50% of their salary upon retirement. The gov’t should also begin decreasing the existing pensions by 1.5% a year until the 50% level is reached. Otherwise, the entitlements will bankrupt this country and state.

  2. Decaturguy says:

    It would be a political death wish for Republicans to propose cutting Peach Care. More kids in Republican counties are on Peach Care than anywhere else.

  3. atlantaman says:

    “It is insane that we provide the kind of pensions we do to state and federal workers.”

    It’s a great deal for politicians. Offer a huge voting block (the Gov. employees) some great retirement benefits and then let some other SOB deal with the problem long after you’ve retired from public office. The City of Atlanta has got this one looming as well and it’s going to make the sewers seem like child’s play.

    This goes on in corporate America as well. Current CEO’s are paying for the sins of past CEO’s. At the time it seemed like a great idea, reduce payroll in exchange for some nifty retirement benefits. The CEO seems like a hero, profits hit the bottom line, stock price goes up and everyone hits the motherload on stock options. The problem is the employees are keep retiring, the companies are smothering in non-productive expenses and teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. It’s an all around “holy crap” moment as people start looking to the Federal government to bail the pensions out.

  4. buzzbrockway says:

    Of course DG is correct, it’s political suicide to do anything about Peach Care except expand it.

    However, if we keep expanding and bailing out these entitlement programs eventually we’ll spend ourselves into bankruptcy. It has to stop sometime, spending just can’t keep going up.

  5. commonsense says:

    What’s more expensive…letting a child see a doctor or having that child in the ER six months later?

    If the state doesn’t pay then we will just shift the burden to hospitals who have to admit the kids.

    We are living decades longer than we used to, the reason is healthcare. Of course it cost more, but does anyone really belive that a poor person should die sooner than a rich person. Healthcare seems to be in a fundamentally different class, like education, where everyone deserves an equal shot

  6. jsm says:

    “Of course DG is correct, it’s political suicide to do anything about Peach Care except expand it.”

    What you’re saying is that doing anything less than becoming more socialist is political suicide. Is our society forever dependent on increasing government handouts? This scares me, and it ought to scare any capitalist who will take the time to think about it.

  7. griftdrift says:

    I’m just curious. What happened to the sunny picture of Georgia Sonny painted in the campaign just six month ago? So has the situation with Peach Care drastically changed in the intervening months or was one of the things Sonny did was lie?

  8. buzzbrockway says:

    That’s the dilemma we face jsm. The public wants handouts, but they don’t want to pay for them. Show me a politician who is talking about cutting entitlements? It’s not because their all socialists, it because they know they’ll likely be booted out of office if they propose such a measure.

    What needs to happen is the public needs to have their minds changed on this issue – and politicians are incapable of doing the changing.

  9. David says:

    There is a quote from many years ago that goes something like this, “When the people in a democracy realize that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury, that democracy is doomed to failure.” I don’t know who said it, but nonetheless it’s true. We are truly screwed. Work hard folks, get what you can, pull up the ladder.

  10. atlantaman says:

    David-

    Thanks for reminding me on that quote:

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage.

    (Sir Alex Fraser Tytler) (1742-1813) Scottish jurist and historian”

    200 years seems about right. Our time will probably be up when Social Security falls off a cliff and the Federal Government will have no choice but to confiscate accumulated wealth in order to maintain the current level of entitlements.

  11. atlantaman says:

    “Healthcare seems to be in a fundamentally different class, like education, where everyone deserves an equal shot”

    Why don’t you spend a day at Atlanta’s Public Grady High School, the prestigious Pace Academy and then Alpharetta High School and then let us know if you want to revise your healthcare analogy.

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