Disability advocates rally against proposed Medicaid changes

New congressional plan being considered
Disability advocates rally against proposed Medicaid changes

Changes may be on the way to the federal health care bill that would protect funding for those with disabilities, but advocacy groups are taking no chances.

The Survival Coalition, a group of disability-advocacy groups, rallied at the capitol Tuesday against proposed caps or cuts to Medicaid funding. The group is hopeful they can make a change to the American Health Care Act, the proposed replacement for Obamacare.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Stoughton resident Josh Gretebech, who was in the excited crowd. “But if Medicaid goes down the drain, it won’t be a good feeling.”

Gretebech said he’s concerned if Medicaid funding is capped under the new plan, he’d lose the support worker that comes to his home.

“It would be sad because I’ve known him for a long time and we have a good connection going,” Gretebech said. “It’s hard to fathom what might happen.”

Julie Burish of Brookfield was at the capitol Tuesday fighting for her 21-year-old daughter, Kathryn, who is ready to start a new job and wants to live independently.

“She will always, always, always need some long-term care supports,” Burish said. “That’s what’s so critical and what I think people don’t understand. That’s a huge part of what’s going to be cut if Medicaid goes to block grants or per-capita.”

That funding structure is what the initial plan from House Republicans would offer, but it hasn’t been well-received everywhere.

At a forum on Medicaid issues Tuesday afternoon, the new Wisconsin Department of Health Services secretary Linda Seemeyer said she’s concerned about the future of Medicaid funding as well and would like to see money for the elderly and disabled removed from any caps.

“I think per-capita is a lot better idea than a block grant,” Seemeyer said. “If I could go to Washington and just wave a magic wand, I’d pull the elderly, blind and disabled out of the mix completely.”

Seemeyer said she couldn’t guarantee what the future would be for the IRIS program, which allows the disabled to get services in their homes.

“I will say if we end up with serious federal reforms we’re going to have to look at a lot of things,” Seemeyer said. “I guess the promise I would make to you all is we’re going to look at them with providers, our partners, our advocates, and try to be very transparent and try to be open so we make sure we hear all voices.”

A new proposal from GOP members of Congress released Tuesday seeks to base Medicaid funding for the elderly and disabled on enrollment, which would mean the funding would not be in peril.

But until that or other changes are confirmed, those in the disabled community say they will keep asking to keep the services they say they rely on.

“Two-thirds of Medicaid dollars go to support people who are doing the best they can, people with disabilities and elderly people who deserve to live with dignity,” Burish said.