There has been a lot of talk (mostly negative) about the American Health Care Act, now called the Better Care Reconciliation Act in the Senate version. Apparently, it hasn’t been enough to derail a bill that is arguably the worst thing to happen to disabilities in the past century.
In its current state, this bill and the Medicaid cuts that it includes would be devastating to people with disabilities.
People with intellectual disabilities continue to endure indignities and discrimination that would horrify us if they were occurring to other groups of individuals. They should be horrifying us that they are happening to anyone.
Across this nation, we routinely deny people with intellectual disabilities habeas corpus and imprison them in institutions. We limit their freedom to choose where they live and isolate them in group homes or other congregate settings. We deny people jobs, health care, dignity and self-efficacy. People with disabilities are frequently bullied, dismissed, disregarded and denied their basic human rights.
Yes, all of these things are still happening.
As a nation, we are finally building momentum to dismantle the systems that create these oppressive conditions. People with disabilities, families and friends and professionals who support them are forcing those systems to change. The pendulum is swinging in the right direction, but there is such a long way to go.
The problem is, the supports and services that could allow people with intellectual disabilities to have full lives are already severely underfunded. The Medicaid cuts included in both versions of the health care bill would essentially remove that funding entirely.
Let me disabuse us of the notion the proposed Medicaid cuts would not take away essential services for people with disabilities. They absolutely would.
When the federal government matches state funds to provide Medicaid services, they require certain services to be offered. Community-based services to people with disabilities are not required services under Medicaid rules. They are considered optional. However, they are not optional to people with intellectual disabilities. They are the services that help people achieve their basic needs and stay in their communities.
The alternatives if these community services are cut include institutional care and hospitalization. For some, family care may be possible, but without help, families may not be able to sustain the necessary level of support indefinitely. In an era when we see how much more we can achieve with the right resources, this health care bill ensures that we will be doing much, much less.
Balancing our federal budget, providing Americans with access to health care and supporting independence for people with intellectual disabilities are not mutually exclusive. But achieving a program that ensures all of these elements will require putting aside political rhetoric and engaging in tough bi-partisan discussions and efforts. Such efforts are what the people of this nation deserve and should demand from our leaders.
Contact your U.S. senator and urge him or her to vote no on the BCRA and the Medicaid cuts it includes.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.