Numbers flitting around

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Gov. Terry Branstad handed over administration of the state Medicaid insurance program for the poor and elderly to private insurance companies with a promise to save $400 million. Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds stood there and smiled like a bobblehead. Promises, promises and Branstad was long gone for China. Well, the program only saved $232 million, the administration said. Wait, check that. It’s more like a $47 million savings. Actually, the new Department of Human Services Director Mike Randol told The Des Moines Register Tuesday, that savings figure should be about $140 million. (We should note that Randol comes to Iowa from Kansas. Have you heard about Kansas, and its fiscal disaster centered around Medicaid?)

$400 million. $232 million. $47 million. $140 million. Pick a number while the wheel spins.

Actually, state deficits indicate that the Medicaid privatization is losing more than $100 million, not saving that much. Reynolds has been spending down state reserves and slashing other programs to paper over unconstitutional deficit-spending.

And, the two remaining insurance companies administering Medicaid for the state have been involved in secret negotiations with DHS since Reynolds took over as governor. One company pulled out because it lost close to $100 million. We have no idea what the state might be offering the remaining insurers to cover their losses in the hundreds of millions.

A dozen rural nursing homes have been closed. Disabled people can’t get services. Health care providers are getting paid late or not at all.

Forgive our skepticism. But the midterm campaign has begun. This is the time of year when they will say just about anything to save their jobs and obscure gargantuan mistakes. The Medicaid conversion is a fiscal disaster. Iowans have not been told the depth of it.

Kim who?

John Norris was making last-ditch phone calls to Democrats in four Northwest Iowa counties from Saturday to the Tuesday gubernatorial primary. Norris was running far behind Fred Hubbell and he knew it. Yet he still was bemused by the phone calls to rural residents who voted in previous primaries. If you live the lonely life of a liberal in Sanborn, you would think you would pay keener attention. But nobody knew who Norris was. Or Andy McGuire or Cathy Glasson. They barely knew who Fred Hubbell was. Except they just saw one of his TV ads over the weekend.

A poll by The Democracy Project, commissioned by former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Joe Biden, showed that a majority of those polled (51%) think democracy is “weak” and 68% said it is getting “weaker.”

Democracy depends on an informed electorate. At least, among the activists who attend caucuses and vote in primaries. John Norris was an organizer of the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, chief of staff to Tom Vilsack as governor and secretary of agriculture, candidate for Congress and chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board who oversaw the expansion of wind turbines around the four counties he called. Anyone who read a newspaper in the past 10 years would have a hard time not knowing who Fred Hubbell is. His family gave Terrace Hill to the state. Or McGuire, who was widely vilified by the Bernie Sanders crowd when she was state party chair. That wasn’t so long ago when they were accusing McGuire of rigging it for Hillary.

The problem is that the voters Norris called probably haven’t read the Sioux City Journal or The Des Moines Register, and maybe not even the O’Brien Bell, or if they did they just passed over all those stories about politics and wind energy and how Nate Boulton was bumping and grinding, even. We are told that people are suffering from information overload, that they care not to read the latest vile balderdash, or that you can’t believe what you read. The overload thus leaves us uninformed about people who are setting our electric rates or our university tuition rates, until they maybe catch a TV ad the weekend before the election sandwiched between the weathercast and the sportscast. Little wonder, then, that most Americans worry about the state of democracy. They know themselves.

There is some evidence that this might be changing. The word “woke” has cropped into usage to refer to people who switched from CNN to HGTV some time ago out of sheer exhaustion, and have since resumed civic responsibilities. After their nap in an information vacuum, they “woke” to pay attention as the Bill of Rights has been suggested by the President to be an anachronism.  The decline in democracy, a factually-based civic debate and an informed electorate can be traced to the decline in newspaper circulation since 1990 and the concurrent rise of social media that speaks in blasts of 20 characters at a time. But we preach to the choir, and we thank you for reading.