Steamboat Springs Due to a medical problem which causes seizures, Martha Zimmerman is unable to drive herself to medical appointments in Steamboat Springs, Craig and Denver.
The 52-year-old Hayden woman relies on transportation services from the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence, which the organization bills to Medicaid.
“I don’t know what I would do without that,” said Zimmerman, who can’t imagine leaving her hometown of Hayden, where she’s found affordable housing. “There’s no way I’d be able to get around.”
Zimmerman is among about 100 people living at home with a disability in Routt County and relying on Medicaid to afford it.
Leaders of the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence say the ability for those like Zimmerman to remain at home and continue to be a part of the local community is at risk due to proposed cuts in Medicaid funding, specifically, the type that supports home and community-based services.
“I’m very concerned,” said Ian Engle, executive director of NWCCI.
Last month’s proposed American Health Care Act would have cut components of Medicaid funding that give beneficiaries in some states greater access to home and community-based services, allowing people more freedom to decide where they will live.
While the act was quickly withdrawn, and future changes to American healthcare policies and funding remain unknown, Engle, who has a disability and uses a wheelchair, said he still worries.
“You’re playing politics with people’s lives,” he said.
Engle explained that a loss of Medicaid funding in Colorado would mean less funding to help those with disabilities pay for services, including transportation, housing assistance, employment support and support from attendants who help with daily activities, such bathing, dressing and eating.
Because federal law requires states to cover certain services, including nursing home care, any cuts to Medicaid would likely impact home and community-based services first, forcing some people to move into group homes or institutions in other areas.
“We would go backwards,” Engle said.
Engle said Medicaid cuts would have only a small impact on the NWCCI budget, but the impacts to some people with whom the organization works would be significant.
Another proposed cut would be to the Medicaid buy-in program, which allows people like Engle, with incomes too high to qualify for free Medicaid to pay for the insurance program at a price based on individual income.
It allows Engle to have insurance that works best for his needs as a person with a disability, while also putting money into the Medicaid system and reassuring those on Medicaid they can keep their insurance, even if they get a job.
“It makes no sense to cut people’s opportunity to pay into the system,” Engle said.
For now, Engle said he’s trying to be proactive and advocating to protect existing Medicaid programs.
“I want to be proactive, suggest solutions and get our voice to the table,” he said.
To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow
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