Douglas Corrigan was a young pilot who started out as a flight mechanic on Charles Lindberg’s original team and then decided to take his own shot at aeronautical fame. In 1938 he flew from Long Beach, California to New York and then tried to get permission to fly on to Ireland, the country of his parents’ birth. Permission was denied and so the young flyer filed a flight plan to return to Long Beach. When he ended up in Ireland, however, he claimed his unauthorized flight was due to a navigational error. Of course, only this dashing young pilot knew for sure what the truth was, but in history he became known as ‘Wrong Way Corrigan.’
As I was reading a story in The New York Times by Kevin Sack entitled For Governors, Medicaid Looks Ripe For Slashing (01.29.11) Wrong Way Corrigan’s name popped into my mind and I found myself wondering if many of our Governors are flying the wrong way on purpose these days or if their course is the result of a major navigational error.
I know, of course, that on the surface their efforts to cut budgets appear both prudent and necessary, particularly in the face of the serious budget shortfalls facing most states and the fact that state governments do not have the luxury of allowing deficient spending they way the Federal Government does. I also know that some of the governors – Jerry Brown in California and Andrew Como in New York in particular – are bright people who do not seem the type to make foolish or costly errors.
Jan Brewer, the Governor of Arizona is, of course, another story. She showed her hand early and it is a hand that clearly serves the wishes of the wealthy over those who are less fortunate. In the case of Nathan Deal, the Republican Governor of Georgia and a number of other Governors the jury is still out. But interestingly enough whether Democrat or Republican, smart and progressive or of questionable intelligence and ultra-conservative, on this issue many of our governors are walking in lock step and, I’m afraid, toward the precipice.
Why? The answer, I think, is simple. The number of people applying for Medicaid is increasing rather quickly (up 8% this year), cuts have to be made in state budgets and so what better place to look to cut than from services that support those who have little or no public voice or influence – the elderly, the disabled, and poor children.
I mean we can’t expect our Governors to call for the elimination of tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans or demand that corporations pay their fair share of the cost of running the commons. After all, who would pay for their re-elections? So instead these brave defenders of truth and decency are turning their attention to eliminating hospice care for the most needy and cutting down on the number of doctor visits, the amount of medication, vision or dental support these disenfranchised citizens are allowed. And if these citizens have to die alone or in pain; if they cannot get the amount of medication they require or the medical attention they need, so be it! Times are tough and it’s not our fault these people are in trouble! Right?
Wrong! The last time I looked this was still America, the most powerful nation on earth, the nation that spends billions of dollars each year in support of people in other parts of the world – including millions to countries like Saudi Arabia and North Korea. So I believe our governors and ‘we the people’ can and must do much more and do it much better for our own citizens.
How? We can start by thinking outside the current box of rhetoric and selfish, narrow beliefs. We can also look for other sources of revenue – perhaps by reducing our involvement in other countries where we do not belong and are not even wanted – Afghanistan and Iraq, for example. We can also cut our bloated defense budget. And we can look to revise our tax codes so that those who life has blessed and can afford to pay more do pay more. Finally, we can start facing the real truth – that in a world in which the next few decades will see 50% of the population 50 years or older for the first time in history; a world in which there are increasing longevity and decreasing birth rates and a shrinking tax base, a profit-based health care system is simply not an acceptable or effective answer. That is why every other industrialized nation on earth has a single payer health care system – similar to the one that provides all Federal employees, the President and White House staff, all members of Congress, the Supreme Court, members of our military and millions of American’s who receive remarkably good and highly cost effective support through Medicare and Medicaid.
Yes, these are a few of the things we can start doing rather than continuing to play this foolish shell game in which we pretend we are eliminating costs while in reality we are only shifting the burden of those costs from one government (state) to another (the Federal). And least we and our governors forget, we are, after all, citizens of both a state and this nation. So reducing state contributions to Medicaid payments (the Federal government already pays around 80% of the costs) will require us to take our hands out of one pocket and put them in the other to pay the bill.
We also have to stop pretending that people are simply numbers on a balance sheet and that by reducing the numbers in one column we will solve the problem. We will not! We will only contribute to the illusion of short term gain while in reality increasing substantially the long term costs associate with those who require Medicaid and Medicare. In short, if we do not do something constructive and do something soon about these slights of hand they will sink us.
So if we are wise we will stop these foolish and clumsy slights of hand and instead we will work to find genuine and achievable solutions to this challenge of an aging world population or this ship of state called America will surely run aground. Either we do this or we had better start practicing some form of euthanasia so we can save millions of elders (including many of us who the world calls Boomers and elders) from spending our final years in abject suffering and despair.
So Wrong Way Corrigan may have managed to get to Ireland and into the history books by claiming a navigational error, but I do not think our nation will get to a viable or sustainable destination by allowing our leaders on either the state or Federal level to play these silly numbers games. To be successful they and we must begin making the courageous decisions that are necessary. We must rethink our priorities, develop new systems and start practicing new values if we are to get back on course toward a sane future in which all of our citizens and not only just the privileged few can lead honorable and successful lives.
What do you believe? Is this the kind of example you want to set for your children and grandchildren? Is this the kind of legacy you want to leave?