Advocates: Medicaid cuts, health care repeal will hurt disabled

Updated: Mar. 22, 2017 at 4:34 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WWBT) - With the House vote on President Donald Trump administration's American Health Care Act looming, more than 1,000 protesters, many from Richmond, took to the streets of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

The protesters were voicing their concerns to Congress about the AHCA's potential impacts on people with developmental disabilities.

"If Medicaid is cut, then I won't have the support I need," said Brittney Lee.

Lee, 29, has cerebral palsy, depression and bi-polar disorder. Because of Medicaid disability waivers, Lee is able to live on her own in an apartment in Richmond.

She gets assistance from Richmond Residential Services. The company helps Lee with everything from meal prep, cleaning and rides to and from the doctor and work.

Lee says the Medicaid Wavers have given her independence, even leading to a job in the first place.

If the American Health Care Act and Medicaid cuts were to pass, Lee feels her independence could be taken away.

"I won't be able to have a normal life," said Lee.

Jamie Liban, executive director for the ARC of Virginia, says she wants to stop the repeal and ensure safety for people with disabilities. She and hundreds of others were part of Wednesday's protest.

"The repeal of the ACA has an impact, but the Medicaid portion of the bill also has a significant impact for Virginians," said Liban. "Particularly because we are one of the states with the lowest Medicaid funding. The bill in its entirety would be devastating to people, to Virginians with developmental disabilities and their families."

The AHCA would cut Medicaid services across the country by $880 billion over 10 years. It also aims to get rid of a decades-long state and federal partnership, where the feds essentially match the money the state puts up for services.

Instead, they would cap the money given at today's rate, regardless of how many more people enroll in Medicaid in the future.

"Because we are one of the states with the lowest Medicaid funding," said Liban. "As the per capita cap works out, Virginia would be one of the biggest losers.Where we sit today is all that matters because the bill is based on the funding levels that are today. Even if Virginia is ready to address the waiting list, the bill would make it nearly impossible with the current funding levels being the guide."

Liban says all these changes would increase the already 11,000-person waiting list for medical waiver services in Virginia, ultimately hurting an extremely vulnerable population.

"Virginia is in a catch up mode," Liban said. "We've been ranked 49th for developmentally disabled services out of 50 states. As we've started to close our institutions and provide more services for people in the community, our ranking has gone up. Now, we're 39th in the country versus other states. We would essentially be locked in that position. We'd be near the bottom in the states for indefinitely as this proposal goes forward."

Garren Shipley, Republican National Committee spokesman, issued this statement about the bill:

Medicaid has been a troubled system for a long time. Republicans want to give states the flexibility to create programs that address the needs of their most vulnerable, rather than adhering to the federal "one size fits all" rules.

That being said, the amendment before the House tomorrow actually increases funding for elderly and disabled Virginians on Medicaid through a higher "inflation rate" adjustment. Medicaid for the disabled and elderly isn't included in the block gr ant proposal. Republicans recognize that the demographics of this population are changing, and the Republican bill recognizes and addresses the practical challenges, such as high fixed costs, of caring for these vulnerable populations.

Thursday is the seventh anniversary of former President Barack Obama's signing of the Affordable Care Act and it's also the day the House will work to pass President Donald Trump's American Health Care Act.

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