In the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney’s plan to remove the federal government as a partner in Medicaid was briefly mentioned. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call this Romneycaid.

Romneycaid would be a catastrophe for Louisiana. How do we know this? Because we are witnessing the devastating effect of a much smaller Medicaid cut wreaking havoc across Louisiana now.

As a high poverty state, Louisiana has historically had one of the most favorable federal/state Medicaid funding ratios in the country. Until this year, the federal government paid about 70 percent of the $7 billion cost of Louisiana Medicaid.

That changed in July when Sen. David Vitter sat on a critical conference committee and gave his consent to a cut $650 million, combine that with our state match and it amounts to an 11 percent cut in the $7.7 billion or $860 million.

That 11 percent cut is forcing massive job losses and service cuts at LSU Hospitals, in state behavioral health hospitals, nursing home services, care for the disabled, and hospice care. The cuts are forcing patients to travel long distances to get essential care like cancer treatment, separating families from mental health patients, and destabilizing the local economies where these job losses are occurring.  These cuts are also destabilizing our medical schools for doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

All of this for an 11 percent cut. Romneycaid in Louisiana would mean another 30 percent cut from where we are now — with the cuts and the impacts that I just described.

Republicans like Gov. Romney and our own Gov. Bobby Jindal have an obsession with dollars but a blind spot for people. Medicaid is the health safety net in this country. With the severe restrictions we have on eligibility in Louisiana, it provides care for only our most vulnerable seniors, mothers and children. With a dismantled public charity system, where will these individuals obtain medical treatment?

Cuts to LSU hospitals and behavioral health services will not be contained to the public sector either. They will ripple throughout the private health care sector as well, as uninsured patients continue to seek treatment elsewhere.

Republicans talk about the numbers because those are sterile and emotionless. We Democrats will not let them forget that behind every penny of Medicaid funding provided is a Louisiana citizen who depends on a Louisiana health care provider to give them the essential care they need to stay alive.

Gov. Romney and current Republican leaders do not show any awareness of the dramatically harsh impact of their policies on the lives of those who need these services. Doing it “on your own,” as Republicans often counsel, is not a realistic option, but rather a deadly alternative for our neediest.

Any discussion of health care that focuses solely on cost misses the point. This is not just about dollars and cents; it’s literally about life and death. It’s not about left and right; it’s about moral rights and wrongs.

Romneycaid spells disaster for health care, and the proof is unfolding before our eyes right here in Louisiana.

(Karen Carter Peterson is a Louisiana state senator from New Orleans and chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party.)

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