If a federal court upholds his position, Gov. Matt Bevin wants to require many Kentucky Medicaid recipients to pay monthly premiums and regularly report their work and income status.
I don’t presume to know the governor’s motives, good or bad. Critics suggest he wants to make it as tough as possible for the poor to retain Medicaid.
Bevin’s supporters argue his approach is both fairer and more efficient than the current system.
While I’m no expert on public healthcare, I’m reminded that our culture warriors seem to display dueling philosophical assumptions about the causes of and solutions for poverty. This Medicaid debate might be just another manifestation of that binary disagreement.
One side says this is the greatest country in the world. Citizens enjoy economic opportunities here they wouldn’t find anywhere else. If they wind up poor, it’s because they’re lazy or dishonest or made bad choices.
We should make it as tough on them as possible to tap the public dole. It’s not the government’s duty to support them. Offering them handouts only makes them further dependent and slothful.
The other side agrees this is the greatest country in the world. Citizens enjoy economic opportunities they wouldn’t find anywhere else. But our society isn’t perfect, they say. If people end up poor, it’s not their fault.
The poor may be suffering from chronic mental or physical disabilities. They may have been victims of domestic violence or inferior education or other problems. Because we’re a prosperous country, we have a duty to help them and the means to do it.
My take: both sides in this debate get it partly right. Both get it partly wrong.
And both get equally torqued up whenever I say that, because each assumes it’s cornered the market on truth.
I sprang from generational poverty. Later, I clawed my way out of the poorhouse by working three jobs while attending college full time. Between my church and a dozen years in business, I’ve spent several decades endeavoring to help the poor.
I’ve found that poor people aren’t as binary as the arguments about them.
Some poor folks are indeed nefarious. Some are too lazy to shoo the flies off themselves. Some can’t get jobs because they can’t pass drug screens. Others game the system.
Recently, I spoke with a single mother who’s working and going to school. She complained she can’t get state help with childcare because her patched-together income disqualifies her — while her friends receive aid because they lie on their applications.
“But I can’t do that,” she said. “It’s not right.”
At the same time, everything the other side says about poverty is real, too. Spend even a little time among the poor and they’ll break your heart.
You’ll find folks who were abandoned by their parents and grew up with no direction or resources or family. They not only never had a decent role model — as my mom would have said, they never had a chance.
You’ll find folks with broken necks and missing arms and gouged-out eyes. You’ll find people psychically damaged by years of beatings and bullying.
You’ll find teenagers from homes devastated by addictions. Even when they’re brilliant — in one case I know, a kid won a full ride to an Ivy League university — they can’t escape the cycle. They drop out. They suffer emotional breakdowns, crises of confidence and descents into drug abuse.
Sometimes those nefarious people in that first group are the very same folks as those in the second group. The poor experience layers of problems. It’s really, really complicated.
There is no sure-fix solution, on either side. Anything corrective will be imperfect and, in the end, likely unsuccessful.
It was for good reason Jesus said, “the poor you have with you always.”
I’ve come to support generous government funding for them, despite knowing that some will misuse it. I support universal healthcare.
I feel that way largely because my Bible tells me generosity toward the poor is a divine commandment by which the Lord will judge me.
Whenever I mention that point here, I hear from outraged readers who say, “Jesus told us to help the poor. But he never said the government should do it!”
But caring for the less fortunate ranked among Jesus’ chief priorities. By way of comparison, he never said a word against abortion or gay rights.
Yet the same folks who tell me Jesus wouldn’t want the government helping poor people often are the ones who, in Jesus’ name, insist the government block abortions and guarantee their own right to refuse various services to gay people.
If you’re going to invoke Jesus’ name to justify government intrusion into matters he never mentioned, then why can’t you use the government to do good works he explicitly commanded?
Well. Sorry for that aside. Back to the subject.
If we’re going to err in our state’s dealings with the poor, and we do tend to fall out of that canoe first on one side and then the other, I’d rather err on the side of mercy, generosity and hope than on the side of judgment, stinginess and cynicism.
In the long run, the eternal run, that’s probably the safest course.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.