by Mike Hyland, Venture President & CEO
It’s far too easy to get caught up in and distracted by rhetoric, particularly in a time when people are conditioned to get their information from agenda driven headlines and 140 characters of social media. Those dynamics make it all the more important that we all make a commitment to doing something that used to be simple: let’s remember those who need help.
The pending changes to Medicaid are intended to redirect federal funds (not reduce them) and the collateral damage of this initiative will ultimately be a reduction in services and accessibility for the people that Venture and other committed agencies have supported for so long. For some people who are thriving as vibrant members of local communities, the new Medicaid system will leave them without the support they rely on now to be as successful as they are. For others, a reduction in dollars dedicated to community programs will prevent them from achieving appropriate levels of independence. While Medicaid is a tremendous expense on both the federal and state levels, trying to contain costs by putting at-risk populations at even more risk is simply irresponsible. Furthermore, trying to save Medicaid dollars by weakening safety nets for people who are already routinely marginalized, and often can’t advocate for themselves, is abhorrent.
We must also remember that this is not actually a political issue; it’s a human issue. We’re not talking about immigration or manipulation or Medicaid fraud. We’re talking about people who rely upon community supports from under-paid professionals to remain out of more expensive settings. If Medicaid becomes a block grant program rather than its current program of matching federal dollars, people who have never abused the benefits of the program will be forced to make do with less. Even the Chief Medical officer at the Health and Human Services department in Washington, Dr. Andrey Ostrovsky, is opposed to the idea of converting Medicaid to a block grant funding model, as is now proposed in Congress. Dr. Ostrovsky believes that the harm caused by the suggested shift in funding will be wide-spread and certainly include people with disabilities.
And what of the dedicated professionals who work so hard and so well in the industry? They are already grossly underpaid and over-burdened as it is. The battle to provide this critical (and economically significant) workforce with appropriate wages and health insurance is constant. These people will undoubtedly be left behind again if there are Medicaid cuts that reduce the amount of money that currently funds community-based supports for individuals and families. At a time when recruitment of staff to work in human services is at a crisis point, the act of reallocating current funds away from the people who already make sacrifices to care for others is nothing short of disgraceful.
Cuts to Medicaid will have a long-term ripple effect too. Progress that has been made over the years in helping people with disabilities will halt and eventually reverse, and the workforce will be further diminished because livable wages will be harder to provide than ever before. In short, pending reductions to the dollars vital to so many people who need help amounts to one big broken promise.