By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
Once again there is a bill in Washington that would replace the Affordable Care Act with another version of health care policies, regulations, and practices. Obviously, this is a heated political issue and will likely remain so for many years – but the politics of it tend to obscure an important fact: the current bill, like the last failed bill, will unequivocally harm people with disabilities and the professionals who support them. In other words, it betrays innocent people.
The proposed bill will punch holes in Medicaid funding that individual states will not be able to fill. With cuts of almost $850 billion over the next ten years, people with disabilities and their advocates once again find themselves (for the second time in a year that is barely four months old) in danger of being left behind. In fact, given that this is the second bill in 2017 that threatens them, it would appear that a good many people in Congress are also choosing to simply say that these people just don’t matter. How in the world can that be okay in this country?
Medicaid is a $600 billion annual program that contains many provisions and it is probably time for the program to be evaluated in terms of efficiency and outcomes. Nonetheless, converting it to a block grant or per capita program goes well beyond that. It destroys safety nets and opportunities for people with disabilities and turns a blind eye to the work force that has battled for years to be recognized with appropriate pay and benefits for the valuable work they do and have always done. Drastic reductions to Medicaid funding undeniably makes it even harder to support professionals who are already stretched too thin. Clearly, these proposed Medicaid cuts are tantamount to Congress and the new administration telling this workforce that what they do isn’t important. At best, the people proposing this latest bill just don’t understand what this industry does. At worst, they just don’t care.
People with developmental disabilities rely on current levels of funding to stay safe, to remain in a community of choice, to get to work programs, and to access wellness and recreation. It’s utterly baffling that this would be a group that politicians seem to have deemed as needing less than they get now. We’ll ignore the reality that savings realized from service cuts to disabled people are intended to fund a tax cut for people making a million dollars a year and up. That’s an issue to be taken up elsewhere. What needs to be talked about is the reality that the current legislation, as written, will take away from people who essentially have the least. People with developmental disabilities already struggle to work, to get adequate health care, to have reliable transportation, to develop social networks, and to be heard. They also are victims of abuse and neglect at a higher rate than the general population. So why does Washington believe that reducing programs that support them is a good idea? No one seems willing to answer that question, particularly those who when campaigning pledged not to cut Medicaid. The hypocrisy is staggering!
The ACA is obviously a hot button issue that will remain so for a long time to come. It’s expensive and it is the duty of elected officials to examine it and anything else that divides so many people. But don’t do something that harms people who are ignored far too often. Don’t turn back the clock and wipe out years of progress on so many fronts for people with developmental disabilities. Hey Washington – don’t betray innocent people.