People with disabilities will be hit hard by Medicaid cuts
August 2, 2005
The Department of Health and Human Services wants to cut Medicaid, and some states already have their knives out.
Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt recently assembled the Medicaid Advisory Commission to recommend ways to "modernize" the state- and federal-funded program that provides health insurance for the poor.
The Medicaid Advisory Commission, chaired by former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, must submit a report to Leavitt by Sept. 1 with recommendations for how to reduce Medicaid spending by $10 billion over the next five years.
Unfortunately, in an effort to cut costs and save money, the basic need of health care could disappear for millions of Americans who need it the most.
When President Bush talks about creating an ownership society, what he seems to really be talking about creating is an abandonment society.
This abandonment is under way in Missouri and Tennessee.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen received approval from the federal government in March for his plan to cut off 226,000 to 323,000 from that state's TennCare Medicaid program. About 200 TennCare recipients who use ventilators to breathe will lose funding that helps pay for assisted care. This assistance is what keeps many of them living in their homes instead of in nursing homes.
Even many who remain on TennCare will face new restrictions, such as a drug coverage limit of five prescriptions per month. After court challenges to stop the cuts failed, dozens
of people with disabilities and other activists began a peaceful occupation of Bredesen's office on June 21. They remain there today.
In Missouri, similar cuts are taking place. A single mother of two making more than $350 would be ineligible for Medicaid in the state. All told, 100,000 may be dropped from the
state's program. For those who remain, dental coverage for adults is being eliminated. And harsh new limits are being placed on payments for equipment vital to people with disabilities, such as prosthetics and wheelchairs.
When Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation in April authorizing these tighter eligibility standards and reduced benefits for that state's Medicaid program, disability rights activists chained themselves in their wheelchairs to the door of a House of Representatives meeting room.
With $10 billion more in Medicaid cuts coming, it's inevitable that protests like those in Missouri and Tennessee will become more common.
People with disabilities and others who need Medicaid are in for the political fight of their lives.
Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He is also producer of "The Strength Coach," a nationally syndicated radio talk show (www.thestrengthcoach.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.