President Bush and the Congressional right wing are planning to fund their war budget at the expense of poor people.

As a result of increasing unemployment, continued recession and the lingering effects of the World Trade Center tragedy, tens of thousands are losing or have lost their health insurance coverage. Most cannot afford the premiums that are required to maintain coverage under COBRA.

Many politicians responded to pressure to provide crisis health care by pointing to the Medicaid program as the savior. But now, barely five months later, Medicaid has been singled out for attack in the Bush budget for fiscal year 2003. If enacted, the Bush’s Medicaid regulations will transform a national disaster into a national catastrophe.

The Bush budgets will try to finish what the Reagan/Bush administrations started in the 1980s, i.e., cutting back on all federal health programs with Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor and fundamental element of the nation’s health care policy, its prime target. The Bush budget calls for a dramatic reduction in payments to public hospitals – $10 million less for San Francisco General Hospital, for example. In this way, the administration is dealing yet another blow to unemployed workers and others who depend on these hospitals as their last resort for health care.

Opposition to the Bush attack on Medicaid has come from many sides, including from Jeb Bush, the presidential brother and governor of Florida, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. So too with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Governor’s Association and the National Association of Counties, all of which are mobilizing to stop Bush’s attack on Medicaid. Many state officials are predicting cuts of as much as 50 percent in federal support for public hospitals as Bush tries to cut $9 billion from the Medicaid budget.

The Bush administration is trying to hide behind the wrong-headed policies of the Clinton administration, which also reduced federal support for Medicaid with the help of a coalition of Republicans and the conservative elements of the Democratic Leadership Council. The results have been disastrous but, at least throughout the 1990s their impact was tempered by an expanding economy. Now, these policies, coupled with harsher anti-Medicaid directives, will bring catastrophic results.

But even with Bush in the White House and the right wing in control of the House of Representatives, the attack on Medicaid can be defeated and even reversed. This should be high on the people’s agenda as the 2002 election season progresses.