By Katherine Schneider, for the Chippewa Valley Post
Did you know that one out of five Wisconsinites uses Medicaid? Or that Wisconsin has almost reached the point of no waiting lists to obtain services for children and adults with disabilities?
These statistics are relevant as we wait for the next developments in the ongoing saga of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”).
This past week, 85 people in the Chippewa Valley and at video remote sites in Hudson and Rhinelander attended a meeting about the impact of proposed changes in the ACA and Medicaid on children, adults and elders with disabilities as well as on their families and service providers.
Lynn Breedlove and Lisa Pugh provided current information at the meeting, which was held at 29 Pines in Eau Claire. Breedlove is the co-chair of the Wisconsin Long-Term Care Coalition and previously was the executive director of Disability Rights Wisconsin. Pugh is the executive director of The ARC Wisconsin.
National disability organizations believe that although the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) – the Republicans’ proposed replacement for the ACA – failed to pass the House in late March, the Trump administration may well try again to get rid of Obamacare and cut Medicaid. They fear that the GOP’s proposed changes will pose significant threats to health care and to long-term care for people with disabilities.
Some changes may also be implemented at the state level independent of federal action. Currently Medicaid dollars fund such programs as IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-direct), Family Care, BadgerCare and SeniorCare.
Federal dollars now pay 60% of those programs’ costs and state dollars pay 40%. (IRIS is a program which gives consumers some choice about how their health care needs are met – for example, they can hire their own daily care workers.)
Changes that are almost sure to be proposed will diminish federal funding. States will probably be given less money but more freedom about how to spend it. Services that are now optional, according to the law, will probably be the first to be cut. These include mental health services as well as funds for home and community-based services that help people stay in their own homes instead of nursing homes.
Attendees at the 29 Pines meeting included deaf, blind and wheelchair-user adults as well as parents of children and adults with disabilities, people working in human service fields and just plain concerned citizens. They shared tidbits about their lives, such as $7,000 monthly bills for medication they need and their need for daily home care to be able to get up, dressed, fed and ready for a day of activities.
People said they were worried about whether future cuts will leave them without the needed medication or back in a nursing home. Because the meeting took two hours, two interpreters — Dawn Koplitz and Rachel Kohn — traded off every ten minutes, making sure all the information as well as the questions and answers were communicated to the three deaf participants in the audience.
The interpreters were paid by the Access Eau Claire Fund of the Eau Claire Community Foundation. Expenses for the meeting were paid by a coalition of local and state organizations including The ARC of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Reach and United Cerebral Palsy.
After the session concluded, people visited with friends and chatted about family events, the weather and whether they were going to testify at the upcoming Joint Finance Committee (JFC) hearings. There was general agreement to stress the following points at the JFC hearings:
· Wisconsin taxpayers will have to pay a bigger share of Medicaid costs under the proposed AHCA.
· Block grants will put pressure on state government to limit eligibility.
· Those grants may lead to wait lists for services and create the risk of elimination for some current Medicaid services.
· Block grants could also result in rate cuts which will put some providers out of business.
· A high risk pool has been tried in Wisconsin and wasn’t cost effective
Active community members set forth, caring about the good life for all, like we do in Wisconsin.
Katherine Schneider is a retired clinical psychologist and writer. Follow her blog at http://kathiecomments.wordpress.com