At an organized discussion on Medicaid in Northfield Wednesday, the planned presentations and expert commentary were overshadowed by stories coming from those directly affected by Medicaid and its promises.
“I’m a parent of a 33-year-old [with medical needs],” said Faribault resident Karen Larson. “When I had Andrew, we didn’t plan on wheelchairs and hospital visits. A [Medicaid home- and community-based services waiver] doesn’t pay for the luxuries. It isn’t the icing on the cake. This is our meat and potatoes.”
Larson’s and the stories of others in the room grounded Medicaid — a national program providing health coverage to low-income persons — in substantive reality. And those stories, according to Patrick Ness — Amherst H. Wilder Foundation public relations director and the host of Wednesday’s event — are key to the fight against potential Medicaid funding cuts for those concerned about the Affordable Health Care Act proposal passed last month in Congress.
“It is incumbent on people across this country to use their voice to change those votes,” Ness said. “This is about the community we demand to live in and the choices we make around the way we want to care for one another.”
The AHCA is legislation, intended to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, initiated by the administration of former President Barack Obama. The House AHCA Bill includes provisions which would drastically change the formula for Medicaid funding.
At present, Medicaid serves roughly 1.1 million Minnesotans, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Center notes that about 30,000 (44 percent) of births in the state are supported by Medicaid each year. Meanwhile, around 99,000 seniors get health care and nursing home services through the program, and about 140,000 people with disabilities receive access to care.
Medicaid is a funding partnership between the federal government and each state. For every $1 Minnesota spends on Medicaid-related services, the state receives $1 in federal funding.
The AHCA proposal includes a major funding change for Medicaid, converting the 1-to-1 match into a per capita caps system. Rather than receive a dollar for each dollar spent, the state’s Medicaid funding will depend on what it spent the prior year and and its Medicaid population.
According to Medicaid-supporting organizations, which helped put on the Northfield event Wednesday — like Allina Health, American Cancer Society, NAMI Minnesota, Association of Community Mental Health Providers and several others — the proposed changes to Medicaid funding could have dire consequences for the Minnesota program to the tune of billions of dollars lost.
“There is a lot on the line with Medicaid,” Wilder Foundation’s Ness said.
Making it personal
The event at St. John’s Lutheran Church Wednesday was attended by around 50 local community members.
There appeared to be a like-minded support of Medicaid and its services within the room, including from the three panelists: Vice President of Medical Operations for Allina Health Dr. Rodney Christensen, Laura Baker Services Association Director of Community Relations Lynn Miland, and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid Disability Law Center attorney Anne Henry.
“In my 40 years (at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid), I have to say Medicaid is the most important program and funding source for our clients with disabilities,” Henry said. “The threat of Medicaid being dismantled and cut is really threatening to everything that our communities have built for people with disabilities.”
Christensen, who spent years caring for people as a doctor but now works in a more corporate position, offered a logistical perspective, representing the medical facilities providing care.
“We can work with people if they can get in the door,” he said. “If they don’t have access to care, all we are doing is making the problem worse down the road. I have to tell you Medicaid is critical to us.”
Despite the expertise and deep knowledge base of the non-community panelists, the most impactful testimony may have come from Laura Baker’s Miland. The long-time Northfield resident shared the story of her family, which includes a 26-year-old daughter, Kelly, who falls within the autism spectrum.
Kelly recently started her first job, which she has been desperate to do, according to Miland. The family hopes one day that Kelly will be able to work full-time and live on her own with only outside support. That’s a future they need Medicaid funding to plan for, according to Miland.
“Our biggest fear is what would happen to Kelly if there’s nothing to help care for her when we die.” she said. “Trust me, this is on my mind all the time.”