Archived Story

Government is doing its job – well

Published 7:59am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It has been in style to bash government lately. From certain news organizations and talk radio, to a few jokes you’d hear at the local restaurant, there has been the constant message that government can do no right.

It came to a peak last year with the fight over health care, where the term “government takeover” was used like fire and damnation from the pulpit. It got so heated and convoluted that some folks actually held up signs that said: “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

Truth is, Medicare is one of the biggest government programs ever. It guarantees all American seniors access to healthcare. It is easy to use, and it is much more efficient than private companies.

The overhead for processing claims is many times less for Medicare than private insurers, meaning more dollars go to treatment and care, and it certainly is much easier for seniors to use.

Now the Republicans in Washington have laid out a plan to privatize Medicare, and many have already voted for the plan. It would dismantle the program and put people out on their own, using vouchers instead of guarantees currently in place. It won’t save money, it won’t help seniors, and it will hurt a lot of folks.

It was the same line idea about privatizing Social Security. For a state like ours, where most people worked all their lives in industries that didn’t allow for pensions or to build up retirement savings, Social Security is the thing that provides dignity and income in later years. Data shows that about one in eleven Alabama seniors lives in poverty today, but that number jumps to more than half if Social Security weren’t around.

Social Security and Medicare are two of many important examples of government doing a job we all want done, and doing it efficiently. We need to be good stewards of these programs, take steps to make sure they are on sound fiscal footings. But that is very different from trying to destroy them.

Never was there a more needed time for competent and responsive government than when tragedy stuck in the historic storms of last month. We saw quickly how well our state, local and federal institutions work.

County emergency management agencies were up and running. The national weather service put out warnings that saved lives. Schools were let out early as the storms approached and their intensity was understood.

Think how critical that decision was. Six schools were destroyed in the storms, and another dozen or so damaged, some heavily. Yet not one child was hurt while in school. Hundreds of teachers, bus drivers and administrators made sure kids got home safe.

Right after the tornados passed, there were the first responders doing their job, searching for the injured and trapped amidst the rubble of thousands of homes and businesses. They helped organize the thousands of instant volunteers who wanted to help.

The National Guard is providing security and heavy equipment to ravaged areas. State and local education officials are working to make sure kids can finish what was left of the school year. State insurance officials are monitoring how private companies uphold their responsibilities.

And the federal government has stepped in. Even before the president came to Tuscaloosa, FEMA was on the ground, providing emergency assistance and coordinating for the long recovery process. It would seem we all learned a valuable lesson from Katrina; we need people who believe in government and are willing to do what it takes to make it work.

It’s called public service. And as we move forward on the road to recovery, it’s nice to see government doing what it was meant to do.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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