The tolls have not begun to be taken. But surely that will start soon.
And we can be pretty certain what those tolls will report.

It’s just a matter of time, that is, before we begin learning of deaths occurring on account of the sequester and the decision by several states to opt out of the expansion of Medicaid as a part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The sequester is the policy of across-the-board spending cuts totaling $85 billion this year that resulted from the failure of the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress to reach an agreement on a budget.

Lesser known is a provision in the Supreme Court’s ruling on the ACA that allows states to elect not to participate in a provision of the legislation that uses the existing Medicaid program to expand health insurance coverage for the poor through increased federal subsidies to the states.

Obviously, because spending cuts affect every government program (except those specifically mandated to be exempted by Congress), spending on health care (direct care as well as research) is being reduced.

This can only mean that more people will not be treated for serious illnesses and injuries and that more people will die, now and in the future.

Consider the following projected reductions:

â—     659,476 people being tested for HIV

â—     48,845 women being screened for cancer

â—     211,958 children being vaccinated

â—     112,190 women having access to domestic violence shelters

Or consider the $3.5 billion of reductions in health-related research that would likely save thousands, maybe millions, of lives in the future.

That’s at the national level, but the attack on health and life is taking place at the state level, too.

Fourteen governors have indicated that they will reject the federal funds available through the expanded Medicaid program explicitly designed to increase health care coverage for the poor.

If those 14 governors stick to their vow, it would cost their states roughly $8 billion in new revenue and an additional $1 billion that will have to be paid to hospitals for providing mandated care to the uninsured poor.

This doesn’t include the cost in diminished health and lost lives.

Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman summarizes a recent study by the RAND Corp. this way:

“Medicaid rejectionism will deny health coverage to roughly 3.6 million Americans, with essentially all of the victims living near or below the poverty line. And since past experience shows that Medicaid expansion is associated with significant declines in mortality, this would mean a lot of avoidable deaths: about 19,000 a year, the study estimated.”

If the Gospel of Luke is to be believed, those 14 states and the country as a whole will need a number of appearances by Jesus very soon.

The story in Luke 7 reports that as Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd of followers were entering Nain (a village near Nazareth in Galilee), they came across a burial procession for the only son of a poor widow.

The death of the only son meant that the widow would now be even more destitute, economically, for sure, and probably socially as well.

The text says Jesus had compassion on the weeping widow, touched the bier, made the pallbearers come to a stop and addressed the dead son, telling him to rise.

The dead man did as he was told: He sat up and began to speak.

Jesus, Luke reports, “gave the son back to his mother.”

But that’s not all. The consequence of the son’s resurrection and the restoration of the widow to financial and social viability caused the whole crowd to be seized by fear and then to recognize that not only had “a great prophet” arisen among them but also that “God had looked favorably on God’s people.”

Will a great prophet again arise among us as the thousands of caskets of the dead are carried to graveyards?

Will the reversal of a death sentence to poor daughters and sons, widows and widowers, children and adults in this country and across the world make people realize that God looks favorably upon God’s people?

It may not require a reappearance of the great prophet to cause the dead to rise and grieving parents to be restored to life and hope if something else were to occur.

What might need to occur is for the contemporary followers of that prophet to rise up and deny the dealers of illness, injury and death their cruel and deliberate actions against the poor and vulnerable.

That action by the current disciples of the prophet on behalf of the ill, injured and dying might even cause a recurrence of people entertaining the thought that “God has looked favorably on God’s people.”

Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.

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