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Federal Medicaid Dollars aren’t...

Federal Medicaid Dollars aren’t “Free”

By: Jonathan Bain - September 19, 2023

Jonathan Bain

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as a free welfare expansion. Medicaid expansion would cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and that’s just the beginning.

Picture it. It’s noon on a hot, humid day in the middle of the blistering Mississippi summer. You’re riding in the truck with your grandfather.The AC in his old pickup isn’t quite getting the job done, so you roll down the window for some relief as the two of you head across town to his favorite local diner. 

Once you arrive, you sit in your usual spot at the bar.The same nice lady who’s always there takes your order. “Two cheeseburgers, fries, and keep the sweet tea coming.” 

You finish eating, look to your grandfather and say, “thanks for the free lunch, Grandpa.” He turns to you and says “Son, I was happy to pay for your meal, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” 

You’re just a kid, so you aren’t quite sure what he means. After all, lunch seemed free to you. Still, despite your lack of understanding, you know there’s something meaningful in what he’s trying to tell you.

Growing up in Mississippi, I’m sure most of us can fondly look back on memories such as those with grandparents, parents, or other family members. We usually remember the meals and the times of fellowship, but how often do we remember the sage wisdom that was being passed down to us? 

Judging by the talking points swirling around Medicaid expansion, I’d say not often enough. 

Grandpa may have paid for your food, but the food wasn’t free. Farmers and ranchers poured countless hours of blood, sweat, and resources into raising the cattle and crops needed for your food. A butcher shop had to purchase the cow and process it. A grocery store had to buy the potatoes and package them. The diner had to buy both, a cook had to prepare it for you, and the waitress slid you your plate. That’s the simplified journey your food took to eventually wind up right in front of you that summer day, and it doesn’t even tell the story of how Grandpa had the money to pay for it. Unfortunately, too many folks have forgotten that lunch isn’t free. 

A talking point hammered home by proponents of Medicaid expansion is that expanding the program is essentially free. They’ll tell anyone who will listen that the federal government will foot the bill, so we should take the money and run. While federal dollars  currently pay for 90 percent of expansion costs, those federal dollars are not free. 

For those of us who are taxpayers, Mississippi has a graduated state income tax rate that caps out at five percent (soon to be phased down to 4 percent if the state government does not spend itself into a hole first). When I look at my most recent paystub, about 16 percent of my total taxes paid were to the state of Mississippi—but where did the rest go? The federal government. 

That’s right, more than four in five of my tax dollars goes straight to Washington. Just let that sink in for a moment. How is money from the federal government free when nearly all your individual tax dollars go straight to Washington? Federal money is your money, and poverty peddlers want to take your money and provide free health care to able-bodied adults who can, and should, be working. 

Left-wing blogs aren’t the only advocates of expansion anymore. Many folks who would tout conservatism in our state have started to fall in line with the demands of out-of-state interests, hospital executives looking for a temporary band-aid, and the Biden administration. 

Expansion is often pushed by the same men and women who are fiscally conservative in their homes, manage their money well, and have a great deal of fear that their children and grandchildren will grow up shackled by the nearly $33 trillion national debt we have incurred. 

But to those folks, I would simply ask, how can both be true? How can you fear for the future of this nation, for the wellbeing of your families, but meanwhile advocate for making the national debt even larger? Because that’s what Medicaid expansion would do—it would grow the national debt, and advocates in Mississippi would be personally responsible for the debt their grandchildren would incur as a result. 

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as a free welfare expansion. Medicaid expansion would cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and that’s just the beginning. The federal government has made a living off printing money, borrowing money, and spending as if tomorrow will never come. Tomorrow always does come, though, and if Mississippi expands Medicaid, tomorrow will be accompanied by the tax collector and a multi-billion-dollar bill.   

About the Author(s)
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Jonathan Bain

Jonathan Bain is a Senior Research Fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, where he conducts research on a variety of topics, including: welfare reform, restoring a free-market to health care, cutting red tape and reducing barriers to work, and restoring integrity in elections. Prior to joining FGA, Jonathan spent time as an independent contractor developing a policy research and analysis skill set while finishing his degree. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Mississippi State University.