I don’t know why more people haven’t noticed that this is a typical case study for privatization. It’s invariably an attempt to replace robust public services with barely-adequate ones that will benefit the political patrons of the politician who’s “saving taxpayer money”. Why are voters gullible enough to believe turning services over to a for-profit company will cost less?
Reporting from Indianapolis— Louise Cohoon was at home when her 80-year-old mother called in a panic from Terre Haute: The $97 monthly Medicaid payment she relied on to supplement her $600-a-month income had been cut without warning by a private company that had taken over the state’s welfare system.
Later, the state explained why: She failed to call into an eligibility hot line on a day in 2008 when she was hospitalized for congestive heart failure.
“I thought the news was going to kill my mother, she was so upset,” said Cohoon, 63. Her mother had to get by on support from cash-strapped relatives for months until the state restored her benefits under pressure from Legal Services attorneys.
Cohoon’s mother, now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was one of thousands of Indiana residents who abruptly and erroneously lost their welfare, Medicaid or food stamp benefits after Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels privatized the state’s public assistance program — the result of an efficiency plan that went awry from the very beginning, the state now admits.
Though the $1.37-billion project proved disastrous for many of the state’s poor, elderly and disabled, it was a financial bonanza for a handful of firms with ties to Daniels and his political allies, which landed state contracts worth millions.
The disparate effects underscore the risks of handing control over public services to the private sector. Whether the approach will ultimately improve services and save money remains a matter of fierce debate in Indiana. But the state’s experience shows that without adequate safeguards, privatization can compound the very problems it is designed to correct: bureaucratic burdens, perceptions of influence-peddling and a lack of competition.
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