Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

December 4, 2013

Do you think Medicaid breeds dependency?

The refusal of 25 states to expand their Medicaid programs is a tragedy for the 5.2 million people who won’t get health coverage. It’s also an excellent opportunity to test a long-held conservative view: that Medicaid and other government programs lull able-bodied Americans into a state of dependency.

Your reaction to that concept is about as good a litmus test as you can get for where you fall on the ideological scale. Liberals typically dismiss it out of hand, while conservatives just as often accept the idea as true on its face. It is, in other words, an article of faith for both sides.

Like any article of faith, those views tend to be held passionately. Last month, I wrote that public opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act reflects a broader post-recession drop in support for the idea that government has a responsibility to care for the needy. That diminished support, I argued, shows an increasing callousness toward the plight of others.

Readers countered that they oppose Obamacare not because they’re callous, but because it fosters dependency. “It’s the expansion of dependency that hurts the needy most,” as Fox’s Greg Gutfeld put it in a segment responding to what I wrote. “As government expands and opportunity dwindles, it’s not self- interest that explodes, but hopelessness. Only a moron would think a solution to a welfare state is more welfare.”

That’s far from a minority view. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget proposals have embraced the same dichotomy of more dependency or less spending. Or, as the Cato Institute’s Michael F. Cannon phrased it, “Medicaid is welfare. … It discourages self-sufficiency and encourages dependency among beneficiaries.”

Let’s accept that conservatives genuinely believe government health-care programs lead to dependency, and so oppose Obamacare on those grounds. Rather than trying to shout them down or ignore them, liberals might as well take conservatives at their word and look for data that test their premise.

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