YPSILANTI, MI – The best way to push back against the president’s proposed $700 billion cut to Medicaid funding in 2018 is to emphasize the personal impact of the reductions.
That was the message a panel of elected officials brought to people gathered Monday, Oct. 16, at the Community Alliance office in Ypsilanti to learn more about the potential changes to Medicaid.
The panel included U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, state Rep. Ronnie Peterson, Washtenaw County Commissioner Ricky Jefferson, Ypsilanti city council member Peter Murdock, Community Alliance executive director Kathy Grant and former state Rep. John Freeman. All of the current and former elected officials on the panel are Democrats, and Michigan United organized the event.
The group said the proposed Medicaid cuts would be “devastating” to senior citizens and people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid to fund their long-term medical care.
Medicaid is a health insurance program funded by federal and state governments that provides medical benefits for low-income and needy people, which can include children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people who are disabled.
President Donald Trump has proposed a $4.1 trillion budget for 2018 that includes reducing spending on Medicaid by $800 billion over the next 10 years, the New York Times reports. The panelists estimated Monday the reduction in Medicaid funds would be around $700 billion.
Trump’s advisers say the cuts are needed to balance the budget and focus on programs that don’t work well, the Times report said.
The current budget expires Dec. 9, Dingell said, so Congress will need to pass some version of the 2018 budget by then.
Freeman noted further cuts to Medicaid could come at the state level if federal efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are successful.
The Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion helped fund the Healthy Michigan Plan, and if the ACA is replaced, the Healthy Michigan Plan will no longer be sustainable, Freeman said.
He and Dingell credited Gov. Rick Snyder for championing efforts to maintain the Healthy Michigan Plan.
“When you make a significant social change like we did with the ACA, you have to expect backlash, and that’s what’s happened,” Freeman said. “So if we think that this is important – and we all do – then we have to go out there and protect what we want.”
Medicaid covers 72 million people nationwide, including 2.3 million adults and children in Michigan, Dingell said. Of those Michigan residents who benefit from Medicaid, 700,000 are covered by the Health Michigan Plan, she said.
Medicaid is the largest payer of long-term care in the country, Dingell said, and long-term care for senior citizens accounts for 42 percent of Medicaid spending.
Dingell said it’s easy for people to gloss over the information when in reality, the numbers represent “real people’s lives” that would be changed without Medicaid.
“Seniors need help sometimes with just making sure they’re eating or getting dressed or bathing. It’s dignity. It’s about the dignity of every human being, and as you get older, you can still be a very important contributing member of our community,” Dingell said. “We need their wisdom, we need their contributions. They need a little help. We shouldn’t destitute somebody because they’re older or not be there for them. We need to understand what Medicaid has become.”
When a member of the audience asked what steps citizens can take to discourage the federal government from passing a budget with the proposed Medicaid cuts, the panelists suggested telling personal stories of how Medicaid improves people’s quality of life.
“I would come to Lansing. People have walked away from human services,” Peterson said. “Human services reflect human beings, and we’re better than this. … All of us are players at the table. I just want to make that clear. I see all kind of lobbyists. … I see very little advocacy, and that (is not) what we should be about. Somebody’s got to speak for the people who don’t have a voice in the room.”
Grant shared two examples of people who rely on Medicaid during Monday’s panel discussion. Community Alliance of Southeast Michigan works with 500 people with developmental disabilities who receive Medicaid – 200 of whom live in Washtenaw County, she said.
One woman with a disability felt personally criticized by the rhetoric that people receiving government-funded assistance are “freeloaders” draining the system, Grant said. A 60-year-old man who receives Medicaid, Social Security disability benefits and occasionally food stamps found himself having to choose between purchasing medication or food after he was prescribed two additional medications for a chronic lung condition, Grant said.
“This is their reality right now. These are the struggles they have now,” she said. “What’s going to happen when there’s $700 billion worth of Medicaid funds cut from the budget? It will be devastating to them. It will be a sign of disrespect from the federal government to the people who rely on these services to survive.”
There is no cure for developmental disabilities, Grant said, so people with disabilities will need a lifetime of care, and with the right supports, many can lead independent lives. Many of the people Community Alliance works with live below the federal poverty level and also qualify for food stamps and housing vouchers, she said.
Another member of the audience asked if the state, county or city of Ypsilanti have plans for how they would respond and continue to provide medical care for people who need it if the Medicaid cuts are implemented.
Jefferson and Murdock said they don’t have a specific plan in place at the county or city level at this time. Peterson said it seems unlikely the state would make up the difference for the proposed federal cuts.
“There is no visible support in Lansing to make up the difference. … Let people know you’re watching what they do to the vulnerable populations of our state,” Peterson said. “Washington is where the battle will take place in terms of protecting many of these services.”