State Treasurer Dale Folwell — who previously made denying people unemployment insurance benefits a top priority during his destructive tenure at the state’s Division of Employment Security — got himself the thing so many right-wing politicians always seems to covet most last week: a blaring, front page headline in which they get “credit” for cutting some poor souls off from some public benefit program. As some readers may have noticed, the N&O’s print edition on Friday featured a front page, above-the-fold story by reporter Will Doran detailing Folwell’s action to kick 601 people off the state health plan, whom he claims were ineligible.
The story says this is all the result of an audit the Folwell helped to launch when he took office last year and that it could, at least in theory, save the state around $3 million — assuming (and it’s a rather big assumption) all those kicked off really are ineligible and that they would have stayed on the program for a full year without being detected or leaving on their own.
The story also says that Folwell has slapped a new $25 per month charge on a plan that used to be free — which it describes as a “cost saving measure.”
Pardon me for not celebrating. Sure, it’s always good for public officials to make sure public benefits they help administer are only flowing to those who are entitled to them. That ought to be a basic, boiler plate duty for any government official in such a role.
That said, such things also need to be kept in perspective. Yes, we should keep public programs from being nickeled and dimed by ineligible individuals, but if anyone thinks that’s where the real money is when it comes to government waste, fraud and abuse, I’ve got some concrete I’d like to sell you for a new DOT highway. The General Assembly wastes $3 million on do-nothing special sessions and giveaways to fat cat special interests with connections to Tim Moore and Phil Berger practically every time it’s in Raleigh. And none of that spending involves providing people access to healthcare.
And that latter fact serves to highlight the broader and even more important point about Folwell’s “accomplishment” — namely the absurdity of a health care system that turns access to what ought to be a fundamental human right into an enormously confusing game of cat and mouse in which average citizens (and even public employees) must constantly negotiate a web of ever-changing rules and regulations.
The bottom line: Folwell could save the state of North Carolina a helluva lot more money and, more importantly, save a lot of human lives, if he would devote his energies to helping convince his fellow conservatives to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and building a health care system for all. That’s the kind of accomplishment that would truly be worthy of a self-promoting P.R. campaign.