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Friday, July 15, 2011

Hundreds gather on Capitol Hill to say "No cuts to Medicaid!"

Eileen Falk

Staff Writer

On Tuesday, hundreds of patients, families, and advocates came to D.C. from across the country in buses, planes, and trains with one message for Congress: Medicaid matters! I stood with people who had travelled hours and waited in the 100-degree heat just to get inside the Senate building for a rally to let Congress know that Medicaid not only affects the federal budget, but it also affects children, seniors, those with disabilities, and low-income families - and is often the difference between life and death.

The rally was hosted by Caring Across Generations, the PICO National Network, Alliance for a Just World, Community Catalyst, and the Center for Community Change. It featured Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island, Senator Franken from Minnesota, and Senator McCaskill from Missouri, who all spoke about the importance of keeping Medicaid from both a health perspective and a financial perspective.

Senator Whitehouse noted that the deficit decrease the same amount whether it came from adjusting a billionaire's tax break or from Medicaid funding for low-income seniors and children. The choice seems obvious. Senator Franken joked that Medicaid opponents want to take more from disabled and poor children because, "the poor sick kids just aren't giving enough." He reminded people that if the program is cut, everyone will be hurt, especially low-income families, children, and seniors.

People testified about how Medicaid had saved or changed their lives. One woman spoke of how her premature granddaughter would have died if Medicaid had not paid for a prolonged hospital stay. An elderly woman spoke of how she and her husband worked for many years and retired comfortably, but when her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease last year, they lost much of their savings paying huge medical bills. Without Medicaid, her husband would not be in a nursing home receiving the end-of-life care he needs.

Senator McCaskill closed by noting that 50% of babies born and 70% of people in nursing homes in Missouri are on Medicaid. If Medicaid is cut, will babies stop being born? Will seniors stop needing more intensive care? Of course they won't. Instead, people won't be able to pay for this care, and it will become lower quality and availability will suffer. Children and seniors will face harder times if Medicaid is cut, and we will all shoulder increased medical bills and insurance premiums to help them get the care they need.

At the end of the day, the hundreds of consumers, advocates, and politicians left the room with a common goal and passion - protect Medicaid to save costs, save care, and save lives. So now is the time to remind your elected representatives: Cuts to Medicaid are not just numbers on paper. Cuts to Medicaid mean the difference between life and death, opportunity and bankruptcy, for millions of our nation's most vulnerable low-income people, people with disabilities, our seniors, and our children. We must protect them, and we must protect Medicaid.