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NEW YORK NEW YORK: Debt ceiling package and Bajans in US

Tony Best

NEW YORK NEW YORK: Debt ceiling package and Bajans in US

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“Almost every Barbadian household has someone, a close relative or close friend in the United States.”
The American diplomat in Bridgetown was reflecting on the ties that bind his country and the Caribbean island-nation. Although the United States Census puts the number of people across the United States who identified themselves as Barbadians at less than 65 000, it is widely assumed that a more accurate figure would be about 120 000, given the widespread undercounting that occurred in urban centres, especially in such places as New York, Miami and Boston where tens of thousands of Bajans live.
The figure would balloon even higher when the first and second generation Bajans are added to the mix.
How then would the contentious budget package signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama affect these Bajans and millions of other Caribbean immigrants?
The impact would have been greater if the House of Representatives and the Senate hadn’t reached a last minute compromise deal with the White House that staved off a United States default and an escalation in interest rates.
The budget deal gives Obama the green light to increase borrowing immediately by $400 billion while giving him permission to borrow another $500 billion later. At the same time though, spending must decline by $917 billion over the next decade. That’s not all. The measure calls for the creation of a super-committee of 12 elected officials who must slash $1.5 trillion from the deficit spread out over 10 years. Failure by the panel to identify at least $1.2 trillion in spending reductions would trigger more cuts.
The reductions in spending and the deficit are the areas that would affect Bajans and other West Indian immigrants the most. That’s because the axe is expected to fall the hardest on the so-called entitlement programmes – especially Medicare, the insurance plan for the elderly, and Medicaid, which subsidizes care for the most vulnerable: the poor, including women and children who are already living below the poverty line.
A section of the law virtually mandates cuts in payments to health care agencies and physicians who provide health care services to people over the age of 65. The reductions are likely to be achieved in two ways. First, by raising the eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67 years; and secondly, by introducing a much hated means test that would force middle class people to show that they can’t afford to pay more for the insurance coverage.
As for Medicaid, the poor people’s health plan, that too, would feel the effects of the deal. Hundreds of thousands of Caribbean immigrants, Barbadians among them, rely on Medicaid, which uses a means test to determine eligibility and it is expected to be affected when nursing home care and skilled nursing coverage for the poor suffer steep reductions.
With universal health care coverage a fact of life in Barbados, the prospects of steep cuts to the poor, the aged and the middle class in one of the world’s wealthiest nations may be unfathomable to Bajans.