Republican Refusal to Expand Medicaid Could Come Back to Haunt Them

Republican legislatures in state after state, from Tennessee to Wyoming, are rejecting the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act for no other reason than pure spite against poor people:

On Friday, the Wyoming Senate shot down Gov. Matt Mead’s expansion plan, and a House committee then pulled its bill. The double whammy effectively killed the state’s chances of enacting the Obamacare option this year.

Lawmakers there acted just days after the Tennessee Legislature shot down an expansion proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam. Together, the two rejections diminish the momentum that Medicaid expansion supporters were enjoying last month, when Indiana Gov. Mike Pence won federal approval of his particular plan and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson agreed to extend that state’s “private option” program for 18 months. Both Pence and Hutchinson are also Republicans.

There’s simply no good reason for any of it, even within the confines of conservative economic orthodoxy. The money for the Medicaid expansion comes from the federal government; the states themselves are at no risk of further expense for many years to come if at all. Republican governors are trying to get the funding for the healthcare of their citizens. Better access to healthcare means fewer illnesses, better productivity, and more money in the pockets of the sorts of consumers most likely to spend in the economy. More money for Medicaid creates a virtuous economic circle at no cost to the states.

No doubt there is a great deal of racism in the motivation of conservative state legislators to deny healthcare to their poorest residents. But in fact, the majority of those on Medicaid are not minorities–and poor whites are overwhelmingly Republicans. So even from the jaundiced view of a bigot these GOP legislators are hurting a huge number of their own.

And it’s starting to cause problems for them. Republicans in Kentucky are doing backflips to pretend to their constituents that there’s some big difference between Kynect, Kentucky’s state exchange, and Obamacare. And even now some Republicans are defecting over it:

Former Republican state Sen. Tim Johnson on Wednesday announced he’s switching parties and challenging incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves this year.

But the noted Elvis impersonator said he won’t be appearing as the King on the campaign trail.

“Why join the Democratic Party and run for lieutenant governor?” Johnson said before a cheering throng of supporters at a Capitol press conference. “I’ll tell you: We are all Mississippians first. Elected officials should be in the business of helping all Mississippians, not picking out who to hurt.”

The Republican Party has relied for decades on cultural and racial resentment to keep them afloat. But there’s only so long a political party can only abuse the entirety its own people without even an eye toward sowing cultural division, without it coming back to haunt them.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.