By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
With the year half over already, the U.S. Senate is working furiously to pass a bill that overhauls the Affordable Care Act before Congress recesses for the July 4th holiday. A bill written in complete secrecy by just 13 members of the 100-member Senate is finally making its way to all of the people who will ultimately vote on it next week and, like the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month, the details are alarming.
Of paramount concern is the Senate’s plan to mirror the bill passed by the House that significantly cut Medicaid over a ten-year period, while also converting it to a block grant. It is not just an assault on Medicaid, but an unequivocal betrayal of people with developmental disabilities and the hard-working men and women who support them in the community. With Governor Baker already asserting that this legislation will cost Massachusetts billions if enacted, the Commonwealth will find itself in a position where draconian cuts to basic supports will be inevitable. The human service industry already struggles to hire people, and will now be gutted even further. The funds available to increase wages will disappear. There have been months of advocacy that have taken place to educate the White House and Congress about what these cuts will do to people with disabilities, as well as the professionals dedicated to helping them. Both the proposed Senate and House bills represent that the people who wrote them and voted for them just don’t care. They know that services for people with disabilities will be cut and that pay for direct care professionals will freeze. Their actions prove they truly don’t give a damn. How did we allow our society to get here? If there is one thing that elected officials should be able to agree upon, it is the duty to protect people with disabilities and the too-long-taken-for-granted workforce that helps them. Instead, President Trump and leadership in the House and Senate have chosen to abandon them and dedicate dollars that currently support these groups to the most affluent in our country via a tax cut. Perhaps worst of all, these actions come following a promise from candidates that, if elected, they would protect Medicaid and the disabled. Obviously, it was a lie from the start.
There is still a process that these bills must go through before becoming law. Essentially, the House and the Senate must find a way to reconcile the two bills into one and send it to the White House to be signed. It is my hope that people will flood lawmakers like never before with phone calls and emails that decry this horrific dismissal of people in need. We should inundate our lawmakers with the notion that people with disabilities have the right to live safely in local communities. We must also remember the professionals who are dedicated to supporting them. So many people have worked way too hard, for far too long, under grueling circumstances to be so blithely abandoned in favor of millionaires and stubborn ideology. Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. If one believes this, it would seem that we are dangerously close to failing the test.