Republicans Wrongly Blame Budget Woes on Obamacare and the Poor

A key component of Obamcare is to reduce the number of uninsured by allowing more people to qualify for Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for low-income people. In Colorado, some 300,000 people enrolled in Medicaid as part of Obamcare--and the federal government picked up the tab.

But that fact didn't stop Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) from joining conservative Jon Caldara Monday in blaming Colorado's Medicaid expansion under Obamacare for Colorado's budget woes.

Caldara (at 2 min 30 seconds): In the last few years...Medicaid enrollment has gone up 350 percent. Do I have that right?

Cadman: Absolutely.

Caldara: And because of that, it's squeezing out other things. [Emphasis added]

Cadman: Yes, Yes... we do have one program that has grown 350 percent in that same amount of time, and if you look back just one year ago, the growth was only 280 percent. So think of the growth in just the last year. And at the peak, about a year and a half ago, we were adding about 14,000 people per month to this program. And you can call this an offshoot of Obamacare, because that's really what it is.

Why Cadman gave the eager "yes, yes" to Caldara is a mystery because Obamacare isn't "squeezing out other things."

While it's true that Colorado's Medicaid costs are increasing, though by less than in previous years, the reason, as I explain here, is mostly due to the costs of caring for the growing numbers of elderly and disabled people.

Cadman's baseless scapegoating of Obamacare and Medicaid is echoed in the official Twitter feed of the Colorado State Republicans.

Colorado Senate GOP (@ColoSenGOP) sent out this tweet, linking to a chart of state and federal Medicaid expenditures: "Maybe Colo could afford FullDayK if #Dems weren't pouring every spare $ into Obamacare #choices #copolitics #coleg pic.twitter.com/zrS1L6v5KO."

Cadman repeatedly talks, vaguely, as if Colorado is footing the full bill for the Obamacare expansion of Colorado Medicaid. In a 9News interview last month, Cadman stated that "we added nearly $300 million to [the Medicaid] program in Health and Human Services last year. The year before that, we added $250 million to that program. The year before that, we added another $250 million."

If the "we" he refers to is Colorado, which is likely because he also talked about how Medicaid was squeezing out other state programs, then he's again got his numbers wrong. Here are the actual increases in Colorado's contribution to Medicaid  the past few years.

Notice that the increases actually went down the past two years--contrary to the Cadman's implication in multiple interviews.

FY10-11 - $128 million
FY11-12 - $420 million
FY12-13 - $154 ,million
FY13-14 - $214 million
FY14-15 - $285 million
FY15-16 - $155 million
FY16-17 Request - $136 million

Again, these increases have nothing to do with Obamacare, but they are real increases, mostly due to serving growing numbers of old and disabled people, that the legislature has to deal with, along with other funding needs, like roads, K-12 education, and higher education. And, oh, there's next year's projected budget shortfall of about $250 million.

Yet, in multiple interviews, Cadman blames Medicaid for budget shortfalls, telling 9News, for example:

Cadman: "We have the money" but Medicaid is "demanding literally every dollar that could have been spent on virtually everything else."

Literally every dollar!

So Cadman is, either intentionally or unintentionally, using misinformation about Medicaid to dodge questions about how to fund (or cut) state priorities.

Bottom line: If Cadman were doing his job, rather than blaming Obamacare or Medicaid, he'd be telling reporters what real-life option, or combination of them, he advocates for dealing with Colorado's budget woes. (Cadman's office did not offer a comment to me.)

One option, among others, is to turn the hospital provider fee into an TABOR-defined enterprise, freeing up about $370 million in TABOR rebates for state programs. Another option is to lay out specific budget cuts, including Medicaid cuts. Others would require voter approval, like a TABOR timeout or a tax increases. Cadman could advocate for an increase in government fees, including an increase in Medicaid co-pays, an idea floated by Cadman.

And there are other options, from the left and right, but whatever they are, the budget problems Colorado faces are not caused by Obamacare.